The Rainy Ripper…new writing, unedited, incomplete…

Lilly stopped at her car; she drove a white Toyota Camry. She unlocked the door and watched as Konan walked to his truck. He never said a word. Konan climbed in and fired up the engine. The diesel engine growled loudly. Lilly could see Konan’s face from where she was standing. His demeanor had changed. His eyes were narrowed, his face contorted with rage. She scarcely recognized the man who had been with her every step of the case.

“What happened to the guy that bought me donuts and took me to the park?”

He pulled out of the parking lot and jammed on the accelerator. The turbo-charged diesel responded smoothly, and Konan disappeared. Lilly got into her car and drove to the station. It was time to report their findings to Tia.

Lilly parked in the garage and looked for Konan’s vehicle on her way to the elevator. If he was here, his vehicle wasn’t present. She caught the elevator and stepped out into the hallway. Tia sat at her desk. Lilly walked up and sat in Konan’s seat.

“I heard you and Konan paid a visit to Parchman,” Tia began.

“Yeah,” Lilly said. “I came here to brief you.”

“Where’s your partner,” Tia asked. Her voice was clipped, her tone direct. Lilly shrugged.

“We took two separate vehicles this morning. I haven’t seen him since we left the prison.”

“When he get’s here, you both come to my office.”

“Okay.”

Tia got up and headed to her office. Lilly shook her head and bit down on her lip. The elevator doors dinged. She looked up. Konan stepped from the lift. He carried a file in his left hand. His right hand was empty. “His right hand is always empty,” Lilly recognized. “Why doesn’t he carry anything with his right hand?”

He walked in and gave Lilly a nod She started to tell him Tia wanted to see them, but Konan just nodded and started for the office. Lilly fell into step with him. Konan pushed the door open and took a seat in front of Tia. Lilly took the unoccupied seat next to him.

“Did you have a good family reunion this morning, detective,” Tia asked in her clipped voice.

“Not particularly,” Konan responded in an equally clipped tone.

“Did you learn anything?”

“Michael knew where our suspect resided, he knew the handler. Those are things we didn’t know prior. So yeah, we learned somethings we didn’t know.”

“Who is the handler?”

“The suspect’s mother. Michael called her Big B,” Lilly said. Konan nodded.

“Do we know where she is now?”

“No,” Konan said. “I received a visit from Blankenship this morning. His mother is in the wind, so to speak.”

Lilly stared at her partner. This was the first she had heard of Blankenship’s visit. She turned to face him. Tia scowled from her desk.

“You had a visit from the killer, and you didn’t arrest him,” Tia thundered. Konan scowled back at the chief.

“He had me at a disadvantage, chief. I was in my library and when I came out, he was behind me. Forgive me for not feeling suicidal this morning.”

“Fine, fine. Why is he still here then? What would cause him to linger?”

Konan was fired up. He was ready to fight everyone in the building, Lilly could see it in his eyes.  She put her hand on top of his and responded calmly, “according to Michael, he has more targets.”

“Find him. I don’t care how. Get it done.”

Lilly stood up and headed for the door, Konan followed her out. He was proud of his discipline. What he wanted to do was go back in Tia’s office and curb stomp her. He and Lilly sat down at the desk. Lilly appeared to want to choke him for keeping her in the dark. Konan could understand that, but in his defense, it happened this morning. They had no time to brief each other before they talked to his father.

“You should’ve told me,” Lilly growled at him. Konan shrugged.

“When,” he asked. “Should I have briefed you in the two minutes before we talked to Michael? Don’t be dense, Lilly.”

Lilly leaned close to Konan and whispered sharply, “Dense? You called me dense?”

“No, I said don’t be dense.”

She began to respond when the elevator doors dinged. Blankenship walked into the murder room. He smiled at Konan and gave him a wave.

“Hey, brother. You got a minute?” Konan stood and gawked at the sight of Blankenship. Lilly stared.

“This is the right place to turn myself in, right?” Konan waved him over to his desk.

“Yeah, come on in,” he finally said. He led Blankenship to the Interview Room. Blankenship took a seat at the table, Konan sat across from him.

“What are you doing here,” Konan asked. Blankenship smiled his toothy smile.

“Turning myself in,” he said. Konan shook his head.

“You came to my house this morning. I offered to arrest you then and you turned me down.”

“Yeah. Are you going to do the interview or is Lilly?”

“Neither” Tia remarked. “I am going to do it.” Konan turned and saw Tia standing in the doorway. He shook his head and scowled at her.

“Chief, this is me and Lilly’s case,” he began. Tia waved his response aside.

“You’re too invested in this case. You’ve made it personal. Take Lilly and go for a ride while I interview Mr. Blankenship.”

Konan stood and brushed past Tia. If she wanted to do the interview it was fine with him. “I am tired of dealing with these knuckleheads.” Lilly stepped out from behind the glass and met him in the hallway.

“Come on,” Konan growled, “let’s blow this popsicle stand.” Lilly nodded and together they made their way to his truck. He drove them to the donut shop and ordered a box of mixed donuts. From there, he drove them to the park.

At the park, they made their way to their table and sat on top of it. The sun was hidden by dark clouds that formed in the north-east quadrant of Fredericksburg. Konan took out a chocolate covered donut and shoved the whole thing in his mouth.

“Sorry, I didn’t tell you about Blankenship’s visit,” he said around a mouthful of donut. He took a swig of his chocolate milk. Lilly nodded.

“Sorry for acting dense,” she said curtly.

“You’re not dense, Lilly. This morning has been crap. I was wrong for saying that.”

“Oh, I know I’m not dense. Trust me, I’m not stupid. We should interview Blankenship, not Tia. Everything about this is wrong.”

Months had passed since they took this case. Every thread, every link, and every lead they had investigated garnered no evidence of any wrongdoing by Blankenship. They had the exact same amount of evidence they had when they started. They had nothing.

“Why would he walk in and turn himself in? What’s he playing at?”

“You think it’s a ploy? A decoy?”

“We have no evidence to hold him, Lilly.”

“You don’t think he confessed?”

‘No. He’s too smart for that. There’s a reason he is there.”

“What do you think it is?”

“Dang if I know. I was ran out before I found out.”

Lilly nodded and finished her chocolate milk. She nodded to the truck and started walking toward it.

“Well, let’s go find out what is going on.”

Konan ran to catch up with her. They’d been gone for just under an hour, more than enough time had elapsed for Tia to make headway with her interview. They returned to find the interview room empty, as well as Tia’s office. Konan walked over to the desk sergeant.

“Hey, Sergeant. What happened to the suspect that was in the interview room?”

“How would I know,” he snarled. Lilly walked up and caught the tail end of the response. She smiled at him.

“You know,” Lilly said to the desk sergeant, “when you’re as unattractive as you are, lacking a personality is strike two against you. You should do better.”

“Oh,” the desk sergeant remarked. “You’re saying I’m ugly. That hurt my feelings” he said as the clutched his heart and pretended to faint.

“No,” Lilly said. “I would never say you’re ugly. Kids would gouge their eyes out when they looked upon you, but I would never say you’re ugly.”

“Chief Mathers released him about half an hour ago.”

“And where did she go,” Konan pressed. The desk sergeant shrugged.

“How am I supposed to know? A reporter was here when she interviewed the suspect. They left together.”

The more Konan heard, the angrier he became. He slammed his hand down on the counter and leaned in the man’s face. “Where did they go?”

“I don’t know, detective. Beating me to a pulp will not get you an answer.” Lilly put her hand on Konan’s shoulder. He shrugged it off.

“I am fed up with this department and your nonchalant attitude. I swear on everything holy…”

“Konan, come on. We’ve got work to do.”

Lilly half-pulled Konan away from the desk sergeant’s area. She’d never seen him this livid before. Spittle formed in the corner of his mouth; his eyes were enraged. He looked like a rabid hound.

“Calm down, Konan. We can’t fight everybody. Our attention should be on Blankenship. We’ll deal with Tia later.”

“Blankenship is gone,” Konan snarled. “Him and his mother are both gone. Tia let him go.”

“Konan, you said we didn’t have enough evidence to hold him. YOU said that.”

Konan slammed his right hand down on the desk and launched himself to his feet. Lilly scooted back from the desk.

“I have to get out of here,” Konan muttered. It was all to much for him. Tia’s incompetence or corruption, Mad Michael, the desk sergeant’s attitude, it felt as if the world had crashed down upon Konan. He turned and walked out of the murder room. Konan passed Tia in the hallway, he brushed past her and kept walking.

The sun had peeked out. Warm rays of sunshine fell upon him, it made him angrier. He stormed across the square and continued to march southward. Konan walked until he reached the river. There were no designated picnic areas here, there was only the bank. Tall trees of oak, maple, and walnut stood along the shore. He dropped to the ground and focused on the water. His mind was abuzz with the emotions that he tried to control daily. His mind drifted to a memory of him and his grandfather, shortly before he had passed away suddenly.

After a particularly hard day of school, his grandfather took him to a nearby stream. He had set young Konan down.

“Listen to the flow of the river. Let it carry your worries away, son.”

Konan listened. He heard nothing. His grandfather smiled and sat beside him.

“Clear your mind, boy. Let go of the pain.”

Young Konan focused his mind, and in the distance, he heard the gurgle of the stream. He smiled. The stream seemed to speak to him, and Konan listened. He’d sat there for hours with his grandfather listening to the bubble of the water. It’d calmed him.

Today was no different. Konan listened and the water washed away his worries. His breathing became shallow. His phone rang breaking his communion with nature.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” Lilly answered back. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m calm now.”

“Well, that’s good. Because Tia wants you back here.”

“Yeah, I’ll start back.”

Konan stood and walked back to town. He could have hitchhiked or called an Uber, but he was in no hurry to speak to Tia. “I’d best let Lilly speak for us. God knows what I would say.” He crossed the square and walked through the garage to the elevator. He got off the lift and walked into the murder room. Once again, there was no one there. Lilly sat in one of the chairs in front of Tia’s desk. He walked in and sat in the other.

Tia turned from the window; her face was marked with a scowl. “She must have liked the way it looked this morning and decided to make it permanent.” She sat down and forced a smile and cleared her throat.

“Neither of you say a word. Blankenship came in of his own admission to clear his name. He felt that Detective Konan was focused specifically on him for these heinous murders. Therefore, he thought it best to come forward and present his case.” Konan rolled his eyes.

“Don’t get smart, Detective. You’ve screwed the pooch a hundred different ways from Sunday. In regard to your friendship, he declined to press charges against you for slandering his good name. However, I decided to remove you and your partner from this case. As of now, neither of you are to get involved in this murder investigation. You will hand off all pertinent information to Manson and Rankin.”

“This is bull-“Lilly started to say, but Tia slammed her hand down on her desk. Tia leapt to her feet and knife-handed her.

“You’re absolutely right, Lilly. This is bull. You and your partner screwed this up. Now, shut up and do what you’re told.”

“Understood,” Konan said. “Are you done?”

“Yeah. I’m done. Get out of my office. Both of you are assigned to a murder case that’s not in the spotlight. Work it and get it solved.”

Konan walked back to his desk. He took his case notes, and threads of inquiry to Manson’s desk and threw it into an unorganized pile. Lilly did the same. Konan picked up their new case and sat down to read it. An old woman was found hovering over her dead husband’s corpse, a pair of bloody scissors in her hand. She claimed to have no memory of stabbing her husband 56 times with the scissors.

“What do you think,” he asked Lilly. She shrugged and went back to reading.

“I don’t know, Konan. What do you think?”

“He must not have enjoyed his last meal.” Lilly snorted. She turned her head to hide her smile. Konan grinned behind the file.

“You know, Paddy told me a joke one time about this housewife the cops went to arrest.”

“Oh yeah,” Lilly said.

“Yeah. See, this old gal had mopped the floor, and her husband came in drunk wearing muddy boots. She shot him with a .12 gauge. In court the lawyer asked the cops why it took 20 minutes to arrest her.”

“Un-huh, what did the cop say?”

“The floor was still wet.”

Lilly peeked over the file and laughed. Konan smirked, and it made her laugh even harder.

“Granny wasn’t playing about those floors.”

“Nah, she wasn’t.”

“So, do you think she did it?”

“There’s one way to find out. Let’s go talk to her.”

They drove to the address and was met at the door by the old woman. She locked the door behind her and turned to meet the two detectives.

“I’m ready,” she said to Lilly.

“Ready for…”

“You’re here to arrest me, aren’t you dear?”

“Well, we came to ask you some questions about your husband’s death…” Konan smiled at the old woman and took her by the hand.

“Did you kill your husband, ma’am?”

“Why, of course. Did you think he fell on the scissors by himself 56 times?”

Lilly stood by flabbergasted by the old woman’s confession. Konan laughed.

“Okay, then. Mrs. Dennis, you’re under arrest for the murder of your husband…”

“I hope that cheating pile of garbage rots for all eternity,” Mrs. Dennis said. Konan finished reading her the Miranda and helped her into the back of the unmarked sedan. Mrs. Dennis looked around.

“This is a nice car,” she remarked. Lilly had handcuffed her while Konan read her, her rights. Konan nodded.

“Yes, ma’am. It’s nice enough. If you don’t mind telling us, why did you kill your husband?”

“I caught him looking at porn.”

“That’s it,” Lilly said. “You killed him because he watched a video?”

“Are you married, dear?”

“No ma’am, I’m divorced.”

“Well, we were married 55 years. I told him that ogling them young girls was cheating. I warned him I was done talking about it. He kept on, so I killed him. Now, I don’t have to keep on like some unwanted nag.”

Konan guided the car close to the entrance and pulled to a stop. He helped Mrs. Dennis out of the car and led her to Booking. After he got her checked in, he walked to the squad room. Lilly was briefing Tia when he walked into the murder room. Val Rankin and Manson scowled at him as he sat down.

“You got fired from a high-profile murder case, and you just threw your notes and crap on our desk, huh,” Manson said. Konan said nothing. He opened his word processor and began to file his report on the Dennis murder.

“You were supposed to hand it over to us, Konan,” Rankin pressed. Konan stood and walked over to their desk. He picked up the notes, took two steps back, and flung the notes at Rankin.

“There you go,” he said as paper went flying. “Consider the notes handed off. Now, shut up and let me finish this report.”

Tia and Lilly watched as Konan threw the notes at the two other detectives. Lilly giggled. Tia nodded at Konan, and Lilly went out to check on her partner. She sat down at her desk and hid her smile with the back of her hand.

“How’s Mrs. Dennis? Did you get her booked?”

“Oh yeah. She’s adjusted really well to her new life in the holding cell.”

“What was all that about,” Lilly said motioning to Rankin and Manson. Konan shrugged and feigned a yawn.

“Oh, they were butthurt that we hadn’t passed off the notes correctly. I took the time to do it right.”

“That’s very generous of you, Konan.”

“What can I say? I’m a nice guy.”

The Rainy Ripper…the story continues…new writing, unedited, incomplete…

Blankenship left, and Konan stood to his feet. “What just happened here? Am I insane?” He looked out the peep hole, but Blankenship was no where to be found. Konan walked to his coffee machine and put in another K-cup.

At 0730, Konan left for the prison. His father was housed at the state prison, people called it Parchman. According to many prisoners, it was hell on earth inside the walls of the prison. Konan felt zero sympathy for those incarcerated within. “They shouldn’t have committed a crime if they didn’t like the housing options.” Of course, Konan kept his opinion to himself.

Lilly stood at the gate when Konan pulled up. He hadn’t said when he would leave for the prison. Last night, their silence was awkward, and Konan hadn’t felt like arguing with his partner. Today, Lilly gave him a small smile and a wave as he approached.

“Morning,” she said.

“Hey,” he replied grumpily. She fell into step with him as he forced himself to move toward the door. A silence developed between the two. Both signed in at the desk and asked to speak to ‘Mad’ Michael.

They handed over their sidearms and was led to a quiet room. The entire space was white. Michael Konan was led into the room. He sat at the table; his hands remained handcuffed. He gave a small wave to Konan which caused the chain to rattle.

“Hello, Thermopolis.”

Konan sat across from him. They locked eyes with each other.

“Mad Michael.”

His dad laughed. Lilly stared at the two men. “Apparently the apple didn’t fall far from the tree in their case. Both of them are hardheaded.”

“I bet you’ve wondered why I asked you to come here,” Michael said. Konan shrugged.

“Okay, I’ll bite. Why did you ask me here?”

“I wanted to see you. You’re a popular name in here.”

“Mmhmm, I bet.”

“Thought I would see what the hype is all about.”

“Well, I am here, and you’ve seen me. Tell me about Blankenship and where I can find him.”

Michael laughed. He nodded at the guard and then at Konan as if to say, “get a load of this guy.” The guard chuckled.

“How’s your momma doing? We’ve lost touch since I moved here.”

Konan frowned. He locked eyes with his ‘dad’ and leaned forward and whispered, “she’s dead, has been for six years now. After she heard that you had killed that poor family, she had a heart attack and fell dead in the kitchen.”

Michael leaned back and shook his head. He slammed his hands down on the metal table repeatedly. The guard tried to calm him to no avail.

“You’re lying. She’s not dead.”

“Yeah, she is. I was at school when she died. There was no one there with her when she left this world.”

“You best not be lying to me, boy. So, help me God, if you’re lying…”

“You’ll what? Kill me? You’re not the sharpest tool in the shed, Mad Michael. Did Paddy not tell you that she passed?”

Michael forced himself to calm down. Konan watched Michael; Lilly watched Konan. Lilly bit her lip and shook her head. “Konan has seemed to enjoy making his father squirm.” She didn’t know what to make of this new side of Konan.

“William Blankenship is a killer for hire. He resided in a small-town south-east of Fredericksburg. Before I got sent here, he stayed with his mother. Nothing is in his own name; you can’t track him through your normal methods. He shows up, kills, and disappears. If he is still around, he has another target.”

Konan nodded and muttered, ‘figures.’ He glared at his father.

“How do people hire him if there is no contact information?” Michael chuckled. Konan’s glare intensified. He raised his eyebrows, and his mouth became a tight line.

“I said he stayed with his mother. She is his liaison. All contracts go through her.”

“And she is in the wind,” Lilly said. It was Michael’s turn to arch his eyebrows. He scoffed.

“Big B is in the wind? What have you two stepped into?”

“It’s none of your…”

Lilly patted Konan’s arm. He looked at her and she shook her head. Lilly smiled at Michael, he smiled back.

“We have a series of murders in town. Blankenship killed a woman, and made it look like an honor killing. There have been several more. The last one was a local politician’s wife.”

“Someone’s cleaning house,” Michael said.

“Yeah,” Lilly said. “And they’re using Blankenship to do it. The question is, who hired him?”

“You’re looking at it from the wrong angle, darling.”

“Oh,” Konan said. “Tell us how to look at it then.”

“Who would have the most to gain from all these deaths. To amass power, one must be prepared to sacrifice everything. So, who would kill everything they loved or hated, to garner favor with the most powerful?”

“Khalid,” Lilly whispered. Konan leaned back, shook his head and sighed.

“There you go. Power called his name, and he had everyone that stood in his path murdered. Sometimes, it’s that simple.”

“Was it for you,” Konan snarled.

“Yes,” Michael said. “I had a prime opportunity to be someone in this town. Then, I was betrayed. Now, here I am.”

Konan stood to leave, Lilly pushed away from the table and walked to the door. She gave Michael a small nod and a forced smile. Konan glared at his father.

“Yeah, here you are. Right where you belong.”

“Thanks for your help,” Lilly said. Konan turned and walked toward the door. When he got to the door, he turned and looked at his father. Michael still sat at the table. Tears wetted his eyes for just a moment, but he blinked them away.

“I am sorry about your mother, Konan. She wanted me to be a good man. I just never had the strength to be one.”

“Yeah. I hated to lose her.”

Konan and Lilly walked out from the prison and to the car. Michael stood at the large window and watched them go. His guard brought him a phone, and Michael punched in the number. A soft voice answered the phone.

“Get me, Paddy. Bring him here.”

The line clicked dead, Michael handed the phone back to the guard and sat down at the table. “Business is business, but Konan is my son. Whether he wants to be or not doesn’t matter. Blankenship must go.”

The Rainy Ripper…new writing, unedited, incomplete…

“Easy for her to say,” Konan thought. “Her dad isn’t the most ruthless and power mad human in our state, perhaps even in the history of evil humans.”

The silence in the vehicle became tense, so Konan kept his thoughts to himself. Lilly stayed quiet the remainder of the trip. He dropped her off at her apartment and drove home. 

He parked close to his house and took the few steps to the door. Konan was tired. All these years he had been a cop and never had his father reached out to him. “It wouldn’t have mattered anyhow. I would’ve slapped it away.” Now, he had to deal with his father. Paddy, for all reasons unbeknownst to Konan, was a decent human. Sure, the doctor had disappeared, and Paddy never put the nasty rumor to rest, but he was good to Konan. 

“Still, I’ve tried to avoid dealing with my family issues and focused on my career. Now, it’s all for naught.” Konan set his alarm for 0500 and stretched out on the couch. Tom and Jerry were on, but Konan quickly lost interest. 

Sleep would not come. He tossed and turned all night, but nothing came of it. Finally, he got up and took a hot shower and laid back down. It still did not work. Frustrated by his lack of sleep and the penetration of his defenses, he went to his library.

During a rough patch in his early life, Konan had gone to therapy. Dr. Joy Beard had told him to write out his feelings on paper. He filled volumes of notebooks with the emotions that he couldn’t face.  At 0200, Konan sat down at his desk and began to write.

I hate it. What is it, you may ask? It is being forced to deal with my father. It is being unable to deal with my heart and its desires. It is a gigantic cluster, and I am powerless to stop it. It’s 0230 in the morning, why aren’t I asleep? Because I’m an idiot. My father is a criminal, and not a nice person. However, I don’t think the law can stop Blankenship. I don’t think that Chief Mathers would let it stop him.

My partner, God bless her heart, she would sign up to bring the law to the most uncivilized people. She has a good heart, but I don’t think she would do what is necessary. Blankenship is evil. He was evil in the service, and he is now unleashed upon our society. There is only one way to deal with men like him and me, put the gun to our heads and pull the trigger.”

Konan took a deep breath and read what he had written. It was true. Blankenship would kill everyone the police sent to arrest him, before he allowed himself to be arrested. Men like Blankenship would not go for a ‘suicide-by-cop’ routine. “He would hide out in a sniper’s nest and wound the first five or six, and then kill those who tried to rescue their friends.” Knowing what it would take to stop him was no comfort. He needed sleep. 

He saved his writing and powered down his computer. “I guess I will have a cup of coffee,” he thought. When he walked into the kitchen, a shadow moved in his living room. Konan turned to face it. It was Blankenship. 

“Morning,” he said to Konan.

“Morning.”

“What are you doing up, Konan?”

“I couldn’t sleep. I’m about to make a cup of coffee, you want some?”

“Sure.”

Konan shoved the Community Café Especial K-cup into his machine and brewed the first cup. He placed it on the bar and put the sugar and cream next to it. Blankenship took a spoon from the dishrack and fixed his coffee. Konan made another cup. When it finished, he spooned in his sugar and sat in his recliner.

“What are you doing up,” Konan asked.

Blankenship smiled a toothy smile. There was no humor in his smile. Light never entered his eyes. 

“Working,” he said. “I understand you had a meeting with General Chase LaMont yesterday.”

“I did.”

Blankenship drank some of his coffee and chuckled. He stared at Konan.

“You were always hardheaded. How is the good General?”

“He seemed to fancy himself a ladies’ man,” Konan said.

Blankenship laughed. “Yeah, he always seemed to be in heat.”

Konan scoffed and muttered ‘yeah’. He returned Blankenship’s gaze. 

“Why are you here?”

“Do you know what the worst part of being a killer for hire is, Konan?”

“No, I don’t know. What is the worst part?”

“Being alone. You can’t have friends, a lover, anything. It’s you against the world. That’s the worst part.”

“Yeah,” Konan said after he sipped his coffee, “that would suck. I thought maybe you would let me arrest you.”

“Not today. I do need a favor though.” Konan raised his eyebrows, his mouth twisted into a sardonic grin. 

“Really? Why would I do you any favors?”

“Because if you do one for me, I won’t kill your partner.”

“You might want to be careful…”

Blankenship smiled his toothy smile and nodded. His eyes shined with malice. Konan’s eyes reflected the same. 

“Do my favor, and you keep your partner. I know you’re a dangerous man, Konan. I was with you when, let’s call it ‘the incident’, occurred.”

“What do you want?”

“If my mother should show up here in Fredericksburg, I want you to help her. It’s very simple. I may not walk away from this job. If I don’t, I want my mother to have someone she can trust.”

“Fine.”

“Her name is Beth, people call her Big B. We may hate one another, Konan, but I trust you.”

“Get out of my house. Don’t ever threaten my partner again.”

“Understood. Thanks for the coffee.”

A Reckoning…new writing, unedited, incomplete…

Mom and dad led me into the living room. It was unchanged in appearance except for the new furniture they had bought. I sat in the middle of the couch; dad sat in his recliner. Momma sat next to me.

“What do you mean you couldn’t hack it,” My dad asked.

“The doctor said I have severe PTSD and other mental challenges. In essence, I was burnt out. They feared I would snap and commit some unmentionable atrocities if I deployed again.”

“What?”

Momma teared up at the news. She dabbed at her eyes with her dirty apron. When she finished her eye dabbing, she went into the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee. “Good thing too,” I thought, “I could use a cup of coffee.

“I couldn’t keep it together, dad. I was frazzled, burnt out. The doctor said I would never overcome the mental challenges. They retired me.” Momma came in with coffee. We all sipped it. Our silence grew.

“Well,” Momma said, “I’ve had about enough of this talk. I’m glad you’re home, Davy. What do you have planned?”

“I don’t, Momma. I stopped by and asked Mr. McCall if he was hiring. He gave me a job.”

“Where are you going to stay,” dad asked. I shrugged and sipped my coffee.

“I don’t know, I got into town today. The way I figured it; I would look for an apartment tomorrow. Could I spend the night? I’ll be out in the morning.”

My dad walked over and put his hand on my shoulder, Momma patted my arm.

“You are our son. Stay as long as you need to.”

It was nice to be home. Momma and Dad fed me and took good care of me. Everything was fine until night fell. My demons would come out and play in my dreams. I tossed and turned. Sometimes, I would wake up coughing up blood. Many times, I woke up to Momma sitting on my bed praying for me.

One particularly bad night, I was bent over the bathroom sink coughing up bloody phlegm. I felt movement behind me. A boy from ‘the war’ stood in the corner. He held his brains in his hands and shoved them at me. “Why,” he asked.

“You know why,” I shouted. “You shouldn’t have had a weapon on the school grounds! You pointed it at me. How was I supposed to know it was a toy,” I yelled. All the emotions I kept bottled up came out at that moment. I punched the wall until my hand broke. I collapsed to the floor a sobbing mass of failure.

My Momma sat on the floor with me and cradled my head. I cried like the little boy I was once when he was told his grandfather passed away.

“It’s okay, son.”

“It ain’t okay, Momma. I killed that boy.”

My tears angered me. It wasn’t the first hallucination I saw; it wouldn’t be the last. The phantoms of my past sins came more frequently. The boy would show up at my job. My mind created new things for me to witness. Some nights I saw victims of horrendous actions. For example, my interpreter’s family would visit me.

I better explain that part. Over there in the war, the locals had a month-long religious holiday. It was a dangerous time to be an outsider. Some of our local friends would assist us in speaking with other locals. One day, our interpreter didn’t show up. We called them terps. Anyway, one day turned into one week, a week bled into two. At the beginning of week three, our terp’s head showed up outside of the gate to our base. The enemy also brought 14 other heads. They had massacred the whole family; rabid dogs had chewed on many of the faces.

Mr. McCall paged me to the office on a Friday. He sat behind the desk, his pipe in mouth. I walked to the desk and waited.

“What are you doing this evening,” he asked me. I shrugged.

“Nothing, sir. Momma has put on Cowboy stew. I thought I would eat dinner with my folks.”

“Sounds like a plan. After you’re done with your dinner, I want you to ride off with me for a bit.”

“Okay.”

“Okay, then. I’ll pick you up at nine, that should give you plenty of time to catch up with your folks.”

“Yes, sir.”

As is typical of military folks, Mr. McCall showed up ten minutes before nine. The rattle of his rust bucket truck could be heard in the yard. I bid my parents a good night and walked out to the truck. We rode in silence until we pulled up to the lake.

             “Come on,” Mr. McCall said.

He led the way to the small cabin that stood on the edge of the lake. I walked down to the pier while Mr. McCall unlocked the door. The moon was full that night, its beams danced on the water. The beauty of that night was not lost upon me. Words floated through my mind, for once, my brain didn’t dart from one subject to the next unchecked.

Mr. McCall stood at the kitchen window and watched me. I didn’t know it at the time, but he knew I was ‘off.’ After I finished soaking in the night air and the beauty of the moonbeams dancing, I went into the cabin.

“Take a load off,” Mr. McCall said. I looked around the cabin. It was small but somehow spacious. I sat on the couch.

“This is a nice place,” I sad. Mr. McCall smiled and nodded.

“It was my father’s hidey hole. If he and mom had a bad day, they came out here. Everything seemed better, heck, life was better when they were here.”

“Thanks for bringing me out here.”

“You’re welcome. I know that getting adjusted is tough. When I returned home from war, America had turned its back on us. I felt betrayed. I’m sure it’s the same way with you now.”

I said nothing. There was not anything that I could say about what I felt.

A Reckoning…new writing, unedited and incomplete…the beginning of something new…

Normal. I am tired of being told I should be ‘normal.’

“Davy,” people shouted, “you’ve changed. What happened over there that made you the way you are?” Everybody wanted the old Davy Allan Walker back. No one like the ‘new’ Davy. “He was such a good young man,” people would mutter as I passed them on my way to my new job. They thought their voices were low enough I couldn’t hear their whispers. I could hear them.

The war had changed me, but it changed everybody. The impact of war could not be ignored. No one escaped the touch of fate. I tucked every whisper away in my mind, there was no reason to unleash my demons upon them. Still, it pained me to know that I was not accepted for who I was. “You’re only tolerated, Davy. You did the unthinkable for the ungrateful. Now, you’re just a monster no one is comfortable around.”

McCall’s Grocery sat on the corner of Piney Way and Main Street. It wasn’t very big. Mr. McCall hired me when I returned home from ‘the war.’ He was a veteran also. His war was also one that people wanted to forget.

I grew up around these parts. My first job as a teenager was as a bag boy at McCall’s. When I walked in fresh from being forced out of my military career, Mr. McCall gave me a huge smile. He hugged my neck and whispered, “welcome home, Davy.” I met his eyes that day, something I could never do as a teenager. I saw the sorrow in his eyes, the same anguish reflected in mine.

“I don’t reckon you’re hiring are you, Mr. McCall?”

Mr. McCall hired me that day. I was relieved to have a job, even if it was as a bag boy at the ripe age of 29. Mr. McCall had no children, heck, he had never married. As far as I knew, Mr. McCall was a eunuch.

“Have you found a place to live,” he asked. I shook my head no.

“I just got off the bus, sir.”

Mr. McCall raised his eyebrows and stared at me. He pulled out a pipe and stuffed tobacco into it. I waited for him to light his pipe.

“You came straight here, Davy? Haven’t you been to see your folks?”

“Yes, sir. I came straight here. I figured I should have a job before I told them I couldn’t hack it in the Army.”

A trail of smoke wafted into the air from the pipe. You could always tell when Mr. McCall was stressed. He puffed on that pipe, and it smoked up the place like an old coal train engine. Kind of like what he was doing now.

“Couldn’t hack it,” he muttered. “Son, you went to war 3 or 4 times. It’s easy for people to say dumb things about something most would never experience. You ‘hacked it’ just fine.”

I looked around the store and bit down on my lip. In all the years I was gone from Fredericksburg, McCall’s Grocery hadn’t changed. It seemed as if it had rebelled against time and refused to be updated in an ever-changing world.

“Just thought it might ease the blow of me coming home so unexpectedly.”

Mr. McCall banged his pipe against the trash can and took a deep breath. He put his pipe away and placed a hand upon my shoulder.

“Son, they don’t know you’re home?”

“No, sir. I haven’t talked to them yet.”

I guess Mr. McCall thought I should go home first, or at least should have called, but I couldn’t piece things together in my mind. One moment I had a thought, and a millisecond later, I was off on another rabbit trail. Besides, saying that I failed was too hard. Telling my parents of my lack of success made it real. Tangible. I never intended to hurt them.

“Son, you should go home. Screw that, I got it. I’ll get you home.”

 A white phone hung outside of the office space. We used it to page one of the managers when things got screwy with the registers. I hated the way my voice sounded over the speakers. My words came out in a maple syrup slow drawl. Everyone always told me I sounded like an idiot.

As usual, I tucked it away. I was young then, well, younger than I am now. Kids are mean to each other. Dr. Rhonda Thom told me before I left the military that it’s part of finding yourself in the world.

I had been around the world, and still haven’t discovered my place in it. McCall’s grocery would be a great place to start looking.

The Rainy Ripper…the story continues…unedited and incomplete…

Konan didn’t say anything in response to the General’s statement, not because of a lack of words, there was plenty he wanted to say, but because it would have led to a deeper conversation. 

“Sometimes, your best course of action is to remain silent. Everyone is not worthy of your words.”

The MP from earlier waited for them in the foyer. He rose to meet them and led them to their vehicle and escorted them from the post.  Lilly remained quiet; Konan focused on the road. 

An hour from Fredericksburg the silence was broken by Lilly. As she stared out the window she said, “It sounded as if Blankenship was detested. Do you think the disproval of his commander led him to make the decision to be a political pawn for hire?”

“No, what people think of you doesn’t matter. Decision made using that, I guess you could call it ‘faulty logic,’ are still your decisions. He would only suffer the consequences of his own choice.”

“Yeah, but you don’t think that being vilified shaped his decision?”

“I don’t think it mattered. He knew the path would lead to this point in time. Knowing that, he still chose to walk it.”

Lilly looked at Konan. ‘How could he be so calloused? We both heard the same thing.’ There was one thing Lilly was certain of as she continued her stare into the inky blackness of night, it would not pay to get on Konan’s bad side.

They went back to being silent until Lilly’s phone rang. Konan kept his eyes on the road. His mind was trapped within the General’s praise of his father. “He was a good soldier…” It irked Konan that people thought of his dad as a ‘good’ man.’ “He was a lousy father to me, and a horrible boyfriend to my mother. The only thing he excelled at was being a criminal. Even then, he succumbed to the temptation of killing an entire family to secure his own power. He is not a good man.”

Lilly hung up. The internal struggle she witnessed play out on Konan’s face bothered her. She touched his arm. 

“That was dispatch. Paddy has tried to reach you several times, we should go by there.”

Konan nodded and aimed his truck toward O’Shea’s.

When Konan and Lilly walked into the pub, the lights were dimmed. Paddy stood behind the bar wiping down mugs. He nodded at them and waved them to a couple of stools in front of him. A homely looking woman sat across the bar and watched them approach. 

Konan sat down and asked for a Zero Doctor Pepper. Lilly asked for water. Paddy placed their drinks down and gave Konan a grin.

“So, I heard from your dad.”

“Ok. And?”

Paddy turned and waved the woman over. She stepped gingerly down from the stool and made her way over to them. 

“This is Esther. She is your father’s attorney and your cousin.” Esther extended her hand to Konan. He shook her hand, and helped her onto the stool.

“Thank you, Thermopolis.”

“You’re welcome.” Konan stared at Paddy and shook his head. 

“What does this have to do with what he said,” Konan asked. Paddy stuck a stogie in his mouth and bit down. 

“Your father wants a favor before he does one for you.”

“Forget it.”

“Hold your horses, kid.” It wasn’t Paddy but Esther that spoke. Konan turned and faced her. She held a stogie betwixt her fingers and stared at him.

“If you want the precise location of William Blankenship, you should do this favor.”

“What is the favor,” Lilly asked. Konan glared at Esther and remained silent. 

“Your father would like you to visit him tomorrow. He would only give the information to you in person.”

“Is that it,” Konan snarled. Esther and Paddy nodded. 

“That’s it. Michael said to show up at 11.”

Konan turned and walked away without a word. Lilly thanked them and rushed out after her partner. ‘The longer Blankenship is out there, the more damage he could do. We’ve got to make this happen.”It had started to rain, and Lilly was caught in the downpour. She rushed to the truck. Konan was already inside it with the engine running.

“Thanks for leaving me in there,” she said hotly. 

“Sorry.”

“No, you’re not. You got angry and stormed out. You’re going to visit your father tomorrow.”

“No, I am not…”

“Yes, you are. I’m going with you. We’ve got to stop him, Konan. If this is how we do it, then by God, that’s what we do. So, man up and deal with your crap already.”

The Rainy Ripper…all 21,357 words of it so far…unedited and incomplete…

Rain. Why not? I have always wanted to investigate a murder in the middle of a freaking hurricane. Thermopolis Konan lifted his collar to shield his neck from the deluge, his ride was supposed to have been here ten minutes ago. Typical crap, make the new guy wait.

An unmarked Crown Vic pulled up next to the curb. The driver rolled down the passenger window about an inch. A curly haired brunette sat behind the wheel.

“Are you Detective Konan?”

“Yeah, the wet version.”

“Get in.”

Konan got in and the brunette extended her hand. Konan shook her hand.

 “I’m Lilly. We have been paired up for partners. It’s nice to meet you.”

“Yeah, you to.”

“Sorry I am late. I stopped to get us coffee, and the bottom fell out while I was inside.”She handed him a lukewarm cup of coffee. “You do drink coffee, right?”

“I do. Thanks for making the gesture.” She handed him sugar and cream. “I didn’t know what you took in it, so I brought everything.”

“Just sugar. A lot of sugar.”

They mixed their coffees and Lilly made small talk. She would glance at Konan from time to time to see if he was following the conversation. He never seemed to be lost. So far, so good.

“So, you came to us from 112th.”

“Yeah.”

“I heard that it’s a great department.”

“No, you haven’t. They are tore up from the floor up.”

“Yeah, that’s what we heard in the 117th. I was trying to tiptoe around it, but you’re like a bulldozer in a trailer park.”

“Let me guess, you were told I betrayed my last partner, right?”

“Yeah, that’s the rumor that’s going around.”

Konan nodded his head. “Figures.” Lilly started the car and began to drive. The rain had not let up any. Heavy raindrops crashed into the windshield; the wipers slapped it away. Konan listened to the rhythm of the wipers for a while.

“So, did you betray your partner?”

“No. I turned him in for corruption. He took bribes from politicians, abused his authority, broke the rules, and tried to set me up to take the fall for all of it.”

“Why did they send you to us?”

“Who’s the victim?”

“I don’t know.”

“Okay.”

Lilly guided the car into an all-night convenience store, and the pair walked into the store. Broken liquor bottles were scattered on the floor, the strong smell of whiskey saturated the air. 

A young officer stopped them short of the ticker tape. Lilly forced a smile at him. “I’m Detective Lilly Thompson,” she said. “This is Detective Konan.” The officer broke into a laugh. 

“Conan, you said. If he hit a side pose, he would disappear.” A small giggle escaped from Lilly, and Konan sighed.

“Wonderful. Another Neanderthal who has confused size with intelligence. Maybe I should reintroduce myself.”

“Sure thing, Conan.”

“I’m Chief Kick-A-Bitch from the Slapaho tribe. Get out of the way.”

 Lilly laughed as the young officer turned red in his cheeks. “That is rather good, Konan. Let us get in here and do our job.”

Lilly led Konan through the mess. According to what he was told, Lilly was the highest ranking, therefore, she would do the talking. Konan was there to watch and learn. Even at the 112th Lilly was considered one of the best detectives around. Konan would sit back and observe.

A row of coolers ran down the back wall and left side of the store. A long hallway led to the entrance to the entrance of the coolers, and a back door led to the alleyway. The hallway was well lit, blood covered the floor and walls. Four bodies, Konan assumed they were employees and owner, were lying on the floor. 

Forensics were taking photographs and measuring the scene. Ally Smith, the lead forensic tech, looked up and gave Lilly a nod. Lilly nodded back.

“Have you guys found anything, Ally?”

“Yeah. We have some bloody footprints leading to the back door. We have fingerprinted everything. Who’s your shadow?”

Lilly turned and waved a hand at Konan. Ally walked over and pulled off her gloves. She stuck her hand out and Konan grasped it. 

“Ally, this is Thermopolis Konan. He came to us from the 112th.”

“Ah,” Ally said. “You’re him.” Konan raised his eyebrows.

“Him? Him who?”

“You’re the guy that burned his last partner. You were transferred here because you betra-, did the right thing.”

Konan took a deep breath and forced a smile. Lilly grimaced. ‘Definitely not a good impression,’ she thought to herself. It is bad enough that Konan’s actions were known throughout local law enforcement. To have it thrown into his face was something else.

“Nice to meet you, Ally.”

 She seemed happy to ignore her blunder. Ally smiled and nodded. 

“Likewise, Thermopolis.”

“Just call me Konan.”

“Sure thing, Konan.”

“Has anyone checked the cooler,” Konan asked. Ally shook her head no. “The crime is out here. None of us checked the cooler. We started with the bodies.”

“Okay. I’ll check it out.”

Konan pulled the latch on the metal door and stepped inside. The refrigeration unit kicked on. Cases of beer, milk, eggs, and cheese were stacked up in the aisles. Konan pulled out a light and shined it on the floor. Bloody footprints led deeper into the cooler. The footprints were tiny, like a child’s footprint. 

A noise sounded at the back of the cooler. Konan moved quietly through the cooler. He turned off his light and came up to the side of cases of soda. Old fashioned glass bottles rattled in their cases. 

Konan knelt beside a small girl. She had blood on her hands and face. Tears stained her cheeks.

“Hi,” Konan said. “I’m Konan. What’s your name?”

The child would not look at him, she continued to cry silently. Konan reached for her. His badge came into view and the child screamed. 

“Bad man! Bad man!”

Konan backed up. The door of the cooler opened, police began to pour in. Konan waved them off. Lilly stood in the doorway.

“What’s going on, Konan?”

“Call child services, we have a witness.”

Konan took a seat on a milk crate until child services arrived. They rushed into the cooler and spoke to the child in a calm, kind manner. Konan walked out. Lilly waited for him behind the ticker tape. 

“Is she okay,” Lilly asked. Konan shrugged. 

“I don’t know. She went bananas when she noticed my badge. She kept screaming bad man! Bad man!”

Lilly rubbed her forehead. Poor Konan, this is not what he needs. He just got here.Konan and Lilly walked out into the rain. They sat in their car and watched the deluge. 

“Konan, do you think a dirty cop killed those folks?”

“It would seem so given her reaction to the badge. However, that does not necessarily mean anything. A lot of folks today do not trust cops. Maybe her parents told her to stay away from police.”

“Maybe, but you don’t believe that do you?”

“I just got here, Lilly. I am not trying to make waves, and I am not trying to point a finger at a cop. I will follow the evidence and if it points at a dirty cop, I will arrest him or her. Until then…”

Lilly patted Konan’s leg. She winked at him. Konan shook his head in disgust.

“I understand, Konan. We must brief Chief Mathers. She will want to know what we have found.”

“Yeah.”

Lilly started the car and pulled out into traffic. Konan gripped the door handle and breathed deeply. Lilly swerved in and out of traffic, often times blowing the horn to let the other drivers know she was coming through. 

“Relax, Konan. I got this.”

Konan said nothing. He closed his eyes and waitedGod, if I die here, please dont let me suffer, Konan prayed silently.

“Are you religious, Konan?”

 Lilly hit the horn and jammed on the brakes before Konan could answer. “You moron,”she shouted. The vehicle that had pulled out in front of them moved over in the other lane. Lilly craned her neck to see if the driver was as stupid as the way they drove.

An old lady lifted her middle finger and shoved it out her open window. Konan grinned, Lilly busted out laughing. 

“You go, Granny.”

Lilly whipped the car into the motorpool and jammed the brakes. Konan released the breath he had held in since the near collision with the old lady.

“You didn’t answer me. Are you religious?”

“Yes.”

“How can you believe in God, when you see what we see day in and day out?”

“How can you not?” Lilly shrugged her thin shoulders and smiled. 

“I never said I didn’t. I just want to get to know you.”

“Just because we see the worst of human nature doesn’t mean that God doesn’t exist. There are plenty of good people in the world.”

“Yeah, I reckon.”

They entered the elevator and rode it to the second floor. They got off and made a right. A long narrow hallway ran east and west through the floor. The second door on the right was the office for homicide. It was known as ‘the murder room.’ They walked in. A pair of detectives waited for them.

“Y’all catch a bad one,” the thin one asked. Her name was Manson. She was tall and thin. Her blond hair was straight, her eyes a cold grey. Her lips were thin, just like the rest of her.

“Yeah,” Lilly said. Manson nodded to Konan. 

“Who’s this?”

“This is my partner, Thermopolis Konan.”

“I don’t like him,” Manson said. She waved over a short, barrel-chested behemoth. Manson pointed at Konan. “You know him, right?”

Val Rankin stared at Konan. He scrunched his nose up in disgust. 

“Yeah. I know this traitor. Thermopolis Konan. No matter how hard we try, we just can’t get rid of you.”

“Funny stuff, Val. I was just thinking the same thing. Then again, trash goes whichever the wind blows.”

Val stepped toward Konan and clenched his fist. Konan smiled at him. Lilly stepped between them. “Okay, boys. That’s enough. Come on, Konan. We have to report in.”

She led Konan away from Manson and Rankin. Captain Tia Mathers office was at the back of the murder room. She looked up from her desk and waved them in. Her eyes followed Konan’s movements. When they got to her desk, she told them to sit down.

“What is it, Lilly?”

“It’s ugly, Captain. Four dead in the hallway, a witness left alive in the cooler.”

“Okay. Y’all get on it. Keep me informed.”

Lilly nodded her head and stood to her feet. Konan stood as well. Mathers looked at him.

“No one said you could leave, Konan.”

Konan sat back down and waited. Lilly turned back but Mathers nodded to the door. Lilly exited the room, and Mathers locked eyes with Konan.

“Let’s get something straight right off the bat, Konan. I don’t like you. I don’t like the fact that you turned on your own. I was not given a choice about you coming here, but make no mistake, I won’t hesitate to throw you out of here if you betray us. You dig?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Good. Get out of my office.”

Konan walked out into the squad room and sat at his desk. Lilly pulled up a chair next to him.  Konan leaned back and waited for Lilly to spill the beans.

“Things didn’t go well with Tia, did it?”

“It was fine. I figured I would have to face it at some point. It’s better to get it out of the way.”

“Well, let’s get out of here and go to the morgue. Surely, they’ve found something by now.”

Lilly and Konan walked out to the parking garage. Konan walked to the driver’s side. Lilly tried to hide her smile.

“Would you like to drive, Konan?”

“If you don’t mind.”

“Not at all,” Lilly said.  Konan pulled the unmarked Crown Vic out of the garage and started for the morgue. Lilly yawned. Konan never exceeded the speed limit. Lilly kept glancing at the speedometer. 

“Wow. You’re a by-the-book kind of guy. Do you get in a hurry for anything?”

Konan laughed. “Sure, I get in a hurry sometimes. However, we are going to the morgue. Everyone there is dead, so why rush?”

“That’s horrible,” Lilly snickered. 

“Well, it’s not like they’re going anywhere.”

“I got it, Konan.”

Konan nodded. Lilly laughed at his attempts at humor. This partnership was off to a good start.

Konan guided the car into a parking place near the door to the morgue. It was really coming down. Hurricane Irma was causing all sorts of havoc in the Gulf. The wind whipped trash through the parking lot as Konan and Lilly rushed to the door. A security guard sat behind the desk and watched the weather report. He looked up when the pair approached the desk.

“Kinda bad out there, ain’t it?”

“Yep,” Lilly said. She and Konan flashed their badges at him. “Is Ally in?”

“Sure,” the guard replied. “She’s always in. Ain’t never met anybody as dedicated as that gal is to her work.  A nuke could go off and it would not budge her from her duties.”

He motioned for them to go on back. Lilly and Konan started around the desk. The guard put his hand up and stopped them.

“Y’all know where you’re going, right?”

“Yep,” Lilly said. Konan forced a grin. 

“I’m just following her, boss.”

“Alright, then. Be safe out there.”

“You too.”

They walked down the hallway it was white. Everything was white, and it smelled as if the staff had soaked everything in bleach. White walls, white floor, white tiles. Konan’s eyes hurt from the glare of the light on the all-white surfaces.

“I think they like white,” Lilly said. Konan chuckled. 

“Did I ever tell you about this Non-Commissioned Officer I had just before I got out of the Army?”

“No. We just met like six hours ago. This is my first time hearing it.”

“I had a Sergeant from the West Coast somewhere and she was a bit ditzy, I guess you would say. One of my buds, he was a basket case, but I loved him to death. He asked her what her favorite color was one day while we were in the motorpool.” Lilly giggled and stood outside of Ally’s office.

“What did she say,” Lilly asked.

“She said her favorite color was clear.”

“Clear?”

“Yeah, transparent, clear, you know, like a plastic bottle.”

Lilly’s brow furrowed and her worry lines showed. 

“That’s not a color.”

“I know. That’s what made it funny.”

“I don’t get it.”

“That’s okay, Lilly. I guess you had to be there.”

Lilly knocked on the door and waited. Down the hall a door slammed. Konan turned and stared down the hall. Ally stepped out of the cooler and walked toward them. She gave Lilly a nod and motioned for them to follow her.

“This is going to be nasty,” Ally said quietly. Her eyes were dark, her mouth a tight line. Dark circles were under her eyes. She sat down on a stool and looked at her notes. 

“First things first, all the victims were killed almost at the same time. Second, all were shot expect for the first victim. She was killed by a garotte. Most likely it was piano wire. Whoever killed her, they almost cut her head slam off.”

“Anything else,” Konan asked.

“Yeah,” Ally said. “Before they shot the other three victims, they were shoved to their knees and made to watch the execution of the woman. Then, they were shot in the back of the left ear with a .22-caliber handgun.”

“Jesus,” Lilly whispered. Konan said nothing. Ally put down her clipboard and motioned for them to follow her. She pulled out the bodies and showed them the wounds. 

“Look how neat this cut is with the garotte. There was no herky-jerky motion. It was one smooth cut. The wire slid right through the tender flesh.”

“Do you have a magnifying glass,” Konan asked. Ally handed him one. He studied the wound and shook his head.

“What is it,” Lilly asked. Konan shrugged. 

“I saw a couple of decapitations while deployed but nothing like this.”

“Meaning,” Ally asked.

“The wounds were similar, but not that clean. The insurgents used fishing line.”

“How did they…”

“They put it under overpasses and used the vehicle’s momentum to kill the machine gunners.”

“Oh,” Ally said. “I doubt the killer used fishing line.”

“They didn’t. Like you said earlier, it’s too clean.”

[CHAPTER 2]

THERE ARE NO INNOCENTS IN WAR, THERE ARE ONLY LOSERS. WHAT DID THEY LOSE? THEIR HUMANITY.

 

The wind and rain were relentless. Ally’s briefing of her findings took the better part of an hour.  In that time the storm had worsened. 

Lilly and Konan raced to the car. Lilly’s umbrella did not help block the rain. Between the wind and the rain, they both ended up soaked. 

“This is nuts, Konan. So, we are looking for multiple assailants, a sadist, and. Lord knows what else.”

Konan sighed. Human depravity, viciousness, and violent nature was as old as time itself. Still, the brutal nature that had dispatched the woman was unusual.

“Tell me of your time in the service,” Lilly said. She didn’t phrase it delicately. His interest in the wound was not usual for a police detective. It hinted at something deeper and darker. 

“What do you want to know?”

“What was your job?”

“I hunted insurgents and killed them.”

“Okay. You saw a lot of action?”

“Yeah.”

“You mentioned decapitations when we were at the morgue. Can you tell me about it?”

“I could. I’m not going to. It’s not relevant to our investigation.”

“If you expect me to trust you, you need to tell me Konan. This is how we build trust.”

“Okay. Let’s do this, then.” Konan’s lips pulled back into a snarl, his eyes became cloudy. He stared out the passenger window at the black night.

“The first decapitation I saw was a small boy. His mother was a judge or something. They killed her straight off. Raped his sister. Made his dad watch as they cut off the boy’s head.”

Lilly turned and looked at Konan. He spoke in a calm voice, as if he was describing a dinner or a bad date. 

“The second one was an entire family. They helped our forces, provided intel, reported enemy movements, that type of thing. Anyway, the insurgents found out and decided to make an example. All fifteen members were killed. Their heads were thrown outside of our base. We found them the next morning. Wild dogs had got ahold of them. We could barely make out who was who.”

“Dear God, Konan.”

“Yeah, it was pretty bad.”

They rode in silence until they arrived at the police station. Lilly asked no more questions about decapitation. Apparently, Konan’s answers had satisfied her curiosity. 

Konan had nothing else to say about the subject. What he had seen and done served no purpose now. It was enough that he had lived it.

Lilly went back into the office to gather her belongings. Konan walked through the rain to the bus stop. Remembering what he had seen made him feel filthy. Its always the things we saw but could not change that haunts us the most.

The powerlessness of those moments weighed heavily upon Konan. He sat on the last seat of the bus next to the emergency exit. His clothes were soaked but his mind raced with possibilities. 

“What kind of person would make others watch as they cut the head off of a woman?”

 It reeked of a seriously deranged person. Someone who would have no sense of right or wrong. No conscience.  A sadistic heart and soul. 

Konan had seen some of the worst that humanity had to offer. He had seen evil up close. This was not something one would see in America, but in other parts of the world where an uncivilized nature could flourish. 

Yet, it happened here. Right here on Main Street in Small Town, USA.

Konan disembarked the bus at the bus stop and walked to his mobile home. The 14×70 trailer was often the bane of redneck jokes, but Konan loved his home. It had a walk-in shower. He used the shower and washed the day’s grime of him. “If only I could do the same with my mind,” he thought. 

He dried off and changed into his pajamas. They had dogs printed on them. He strode barefooted through the house and sat in his recliner. He reached for his Edgar Allan Poe collection and began to read, MS. Found in a Bottle.

It was not long before he fell asleep. He dreamed of war and the horrors that humankind inflicted upon each other. 

[CHAPTER 3] — [ENTER CHAPTER TITLE HERE]

Konan tossed and turned on his couch. Sleep was a cruel mistress tonight. When he fell asleep, the storm had raged for hours. It was quiet now, his home dark. A limb would scrape his metal roof when the wind blew. It was eerily silent. 

He got up and walked to the coffee pot. He poured water in and put a K-cup in the chute. Konan yawned as he waited for the magical fluid to make. He glanced at his clock. The red digital lens reflected 0230. He had slept a total of three hours. 

No wonder he felt like hammered crap.

The hot, frothy liquid filled his cup, and he spooned in sugar. He sipped it. It wasn’t sweet enough, so he added some hot water to the cup. Ah, nothing would ever compare to the first sip of coffee. 

He carried his coffee into his makeshift library. Konan sat amid the room and powered on his computer. In the search box, he typed in decapitation. 

‘Holy crap,’ Konan muttered. His search history pulled up a wealth of information regarding beheadings. Many were penned by ‘academics’ and they apparently considered the use of decapitation as a good thing. It seemed to Konan that everyone had, at some point, used decapitation as a method of punishment. The English and French had used it as the final stroke (literally) after disemboweling and hanging those they decapitated. There was even a modern article asking if beheadings were more humane than lethal injection.

Yall come on down to the fairgrounds, we gonna chop the head off this ole boy!

Konan shivered and shook his head. People had lost their minds. Konan sipped his coffee and scrolled through the rest of the article. No one seemed to have written one as to why decapitation was used. 

While he read up on the extremism of decapitation, his phone rang. 

“Hello?”

Lilly’s voice came over the receiver. “Hey, you’re up.”

“Yep.”

“You want some company?”

“Um, sure. Come on over. I’ll put on some coffee.”

“Sounds good. I’ll bring snacks.”

Thirty minutes later, Lilly knocked on the door of Konan’s home. He peeked through the peephole. Satisfied that she was alone, Konan opened the door. Lilly walked in holding two boxes of donuts. 

“Sorry to barge in at 3 in the morning, but I couldn’t sleep,” Lilly said. Konan shrugged and led her to the library.

“It’s alright, Lilly. I was up.”

“We’re quite a pair, aren’t we?”

“No doubt. Why couldn’t you sleep?”

“I dreamt of decapitations.”

“Yeah, I did too. I have researched them since I’ve been up.” Lilly wrinkled up her nose.

“Why?”

“I thought it might give an insight into why people decapitate others.”

“Learn anything,” Lilly asked between a mouthful of a chocolate covered donut. 

“Yeah. It’s brutal. Everyone talks about the ‘cleanliness’ of it as an execution method. You know, ‘one swift stroke and it’s over.’ What they don’t tell you is that the government would only kill noble and poor alike after disemboweling and hanging them. So, it’s not a ‘nice’ way to kill anyone.”

“Jesus,” Lilly whispered. Her face was pale. “So, it’s a method of punishment?”

“Yeah.”

“So, the woman…”

“Yeah. The killer probably knew her and wanted her to suffer for some reason.”

“Oh God. Is there any place that still uses decapitation as a punishment for crime?”

“Yeah. Saudi Arabia is the only place where it is still used. In their culture, the family member of a murdered person has the right to carry out the execution. It is at times very….messy.”

Lilly said nothing to his response. She put down her donut and stared in her coffee. She wiped at her mouth and shook her head. She seemed visibly shaken. 

“She was punished.”

“Yeah, Lilly. She was punished.”

At 0500, Konan and Lilly hopped a bus and rode into town. They walked into the squad room and pulled out the information they had so far.

It wasn’t much, but they had to start somewhere.

The victims were identified as Tamara Watson, Jayce Watson, Kylee Watson, and Talia Omar. The three Watson’s were shot. Talia had her throat cut. 

Their respective families lived within a three-block radius of each other. Upon discovery, officers identified their families of the gruesomeness. 

It was the worst part of the job for Konan. Going back and asking questions of people who had their world upended seemed unnecessarily cruel. But it was the job. At 0800, they set out for the Watson family home.

Jim Watson, father of Kylee and Jayce, husband of Tamara, sat outside of his home working on a lawnmower. He looked up when Konan and Lilly walked up. He wiped his hands on a red, greasy rag. 

  “Can I help you, folk?”

“Yes, sir. I’m Detective Sergeant Lilly Thompson, this is Detective Thermopolis Konan. We need to ask you some questions.”

Jim nodded his head. He became teary-eyed. Konan looked away.  Lilly sat on a overturned bucket. 

“We’re sorry to have ask, but it may give us a clue as to who killed your family, sir.”

“I understand.” Jim said. “Ask your questions, ma’am”

“Tamara and your children went to the store. Why were they there?”

“They went to see Talia. They loved her. Tamara and Talia became good friends. She refused to go to the grocery stores when she could buy from Talia.”

“Did your family have any enemies?”

“No. We stayed to ourselves.”

Lilly nodded. Konan watched her question the man. Lilly struggled with her emotions. Her voice cracked every time she asked a question. Shes kind. Look at her, Jim couldnt wait to tell her whatever she wanted to know. Lilly patted Jim on the knee and stood up. 

“Thank you for talking to us, Jim. Call us if you remember anything that might help us, okay?”

Konan started for the car. Lilly ran to catch up. 

“How do you do that, Konan?” He looked over his shoulder at Lilly.

“Do what exactly?”

“Remain emotionless. Jim cried; I was emotional. You stood there like a statue. Don’t you feel anything?”

Konan stared at Lilly. His lips peeled back and revealed his teeth. He wiped at the corner of his eye and scrunched up his nose. 

“What?”

“You seemed disconnected when it came to Jim’s grief.”

“Why? Because I didn’t beat my chest? Because I didn’t punch the walls and scream at the sky?”

“No, I just…you didn’t shed a tear, didn’t get misty-eyed, you just waited for me to finish asking questions.”

Clearly, his detachment posed an issue with Lilly. Konan had no idea how to fix it. He shrugged. 

“I’m sorry, Lilly.”

“It’s okay. I thought you might have a reaction from you. I guess I expected too much.”

They rode in silence to the home of Talia Omar. The Muslim community had settled in the southeastern part of the city. Talia lived in a small house near the bustling part of the community. The mosque stood in the center of the busy neighborhood. It stood separate from the businesses and homes. 

Konan turned on the radio as Lilly drove. The local news came on, the regular programming was interrupted by the announcement of ‘breaking news’.

“Councilman Ted Wright Jr. stepped down as Councilman for District 2. He departed today under the suspicion of corruption. Meaning that he issued building permits based on the amount of money the purchaser offered. Many minority groups tried to build within District 2 but was denied for one reason or the other. Stay tuned for further developments, we will update as details are released.”

The regular programming returned, and Konan listened to it and stared out the window. Two announcers debated and compares some modern basketball player turned activist to the greats of yesteryear. Konan soon lost interest in it and shut off the radio.

“Do you think that the new guy is as good as the old ones,” Lilly asked. Konan shrugged. 

“I don’t think it matters. The game has evolved and not for the better.”

“I didn’t know you kept up with sports, Konan. I figured you for a bookworm.”

“I am. I’m a bookworm that keeps up with sports.”

Lilly laughed. She nodded to the market. 

“Wanna grab a bite to eat and then hit Talia’s home?”

“No. Let’s go there first. Then, we can eat and not have to rush through it.”

“Okay. You take lead. I struggled with the last one.”

“No problem.”

Lilly pulled the sedan into the driveway. She shut off the engine and sat behind the wheel for a moment. Konan waited until she opened the door and then got out. Konan walked with her to the door. He knocked. 

An elderly woman opened the door. She stared at Konan, he gave her a small smile and showed his badge.  She turned from the door and said something in Arabic.  A tall slender man came to the door.  He had a black beard and wore the traditional garb of his culture. He nodded to Konan.

“Hello. Good afternoon. How may I help you?”

Konan touched his heart with his right hand and said hello. He showed his badge to him.

“I’m Detective Thermopolis Konan, this is my partner Detective Lilly Thompson. We are investigating the death of Talia Omar. I have some questions if you do not mind.”

“Certainly. Please come in. Talia was my sister. I am Ahmed.” He led Konan and Lilly to the living room. Ahmed motioned for them to sit. The elderly lady brought in a tea pot and poured each a cup of tea. 

Lilly blew on her cup and sipped it. She sighed and smiled. Konan smiled at the elderly lady and thanked her. Ahmed whispered to the woman, whom Konan decided must be his mother, and she disappeared into another room. 

“Thank you for the tea.” Ahmed smiled and nodded. 

“You were in the service, yes?”

“I was,” Konan said. He sipped his tea. “It’s been a while since I had Black Tea and mint.”

“You will be honest with me,” Ahmed asked quietly. Konan nodded yes.

“As far as I can be, yes.”

“Do you think my sister was an ‘honor killing?”

Ahmed waited for Konan to reply. The problem was that Konan had no answers. Silence filled the moment; it grew more awkward the longer the moment lasted. 

“I don’t know, Ahmed.”

“Of course, you don’t,” Ahmed muttered bitterly. “What do you know of my culture besides we are all extremists?”

“Did your sister have any enemies,” Konan pressed. Ahmed shook his head no. He scratched his beard before he answered.

“No, my sister was loved by all. To know her was to love her.”

“Was Talia married?”

“No. She was promised to someone, but the marriage hadn’t taken place yet.”

“Who was she promised to?”

“That’s not important…”

“It might be. We can’t find your sister’s killer if you handcuff our hands behind our backs.”

“She was promised to Rasheed Mohammed before he went to…”

“Before he went to what?”

“Are you a soldier?”

“I was. I am now a cop.”

“Did you fight?”

“Yes.”

“Rasheed is a soldier.”

“I see.”

“He turned away from the extremists. He became an informant. He moved back here for protection.”

“Okay. I need to know where to find him. I need to talk to him.”

“You will kill him.”

“Not if he complies. I bear no ill will. If he is decent, I will be decent.”

“Okay. I will have him meet you.”

“I need his address. In case he doesn’t show. Just in case something delays him.”

Ahmed shook his head and wrote the address on a sheet of paper. He handed it to Konan. 

“He will resist. His past is, murky.”

“I understand.”

Konan and Lilly thanked Ahmed for his help and walked out to the car. The weather was raging, the skies a dark, gruesome black. Konan got behind the wheel and started toward the last known location of Rasheed Mohammed.  Lilly looked at Konan.

“You seemed genuinely emphatic back there. I’m impressed.”

Konan sighed. It was always the same thing. ‘You’re not emotional enough.’ What was the big deal about emotions anyway?

“Well, thank you.”

“Your lady friend must be thrilled with your profound emotional development.”

“I don’t have a lady friend.”

“You don’t. Wow. They must not know you’re available. Why don’t you have one? Don’t you believe in true love, Konan.”

“No.”

Lilly made a pouty face and pinched Konan on the cheek. He cut his eyes to her and she winked at him.

“No wonder you’re such a curmudgeon.”

“I don’t want to talk about it, Lilly.”

“Come on, Konan. Show me yours and I’ll show you mine.”

“Fine. I thought a woman cared for me once. I thought. She upped and left, and I tried to salvage the friendship. In the end, I should’ve burned the bridge and gone on about my life.”

“But you didn’t.”

“I wasn’t given a choice, Lilly. I thought we had something, but I was the only one who thought so. In the end, we couldn’t even be friends.”

“That’s sad, Konan.”

Konan bit down on his upper lip and shrugged. Lilly stayed quiet for a while and Konan focused on the road.

“You know, you could try again. Not everyone is hurting or recovering from a traumatic experience.”

“I would rather cut my throat with a dull knife. The problem isn’t that people are busy, or that life is hectic. The problem is that no one knows if the person you’re interested in is really what they show you. How do you know that they’re genuine? That they’re not wearing a mask?”

“You don’t. You take it on faith that they’re being genuine with you.”

“Yeah, that’s stupid. People can’t be honest with themselves, much less anyone else.”

Lilly tapped Konan on the shoulder until he glanced at her. She pointed her finger at him and said, “you’re a curmudgeon.”

“You’re turn, Lilly. Are you married, dating or single?”

“I was married. Now, divorced. We had a good thing until it soured.”

“I see. Did you have children?”

“We did not. It’s one my biggest regrets.”

“Why,” Konan asked as he guided the vehicle in front of a ramshackle factory. It had long been closed, but squatters use the place. 

“Because having children is a privilege not everyone gets to have. If I have children, my memory lives on in them.”

“You want to be remembered?”

“Yes. You don’t?”

“Nah. I’m good with passing like a whisper in the night.”

“Of course, you are.”

Konan pulled out the paper Ahmed gave him. They were in the right place. There was no sun to speak off. The overcast skies gave way to long shadows. Konan and Lilly walked into the building. Broken windows and leaky ceilings made the place musty. Konan took point. 

“Hello? Rasheed Mohammed? Are you here,” Lilly called out? The long shadows held only silence. Konan took out his flashlight and shined it around. Workbenches and various factory equipment stood in the middle of the building. Stairs led to the second floor. 

They proceeded to the second floor. Rolls of fabric and mannequins were scattered in the room. Konan and Lilly stayed quiet and moved through the room. Konan gave Lilly the signal to move to the far side of the room. He went right as she went left. 

A backpack sat on one of the tables. Konan shined his light on it. Everything in the room had dust on it, except for the backpack. Konan heard a noise and turned to face it. Lilly stood by a mannequin. An average man held a pistol to her head. 

“Um, Konan…” Konan watched as the man pushed the pistol and Lilly stepped into full view. “I think this is Rasheed.”

Konan waited. The man looked at him, Konan stared back.

“Who are you? What do you want,” the man asked?

“I’m Thermopolis Konan. I’m with the police, and I am looking for Rasheed Mohammed. Are you him?”

“Why have you sought me?”

“I need to ask you some questions about Talia’s murder. You need to put down the weapon.”

“So, you can kill me? I don’t think so.”

“I’m not going to kill you, Rasheed. She might when you move that gun from her head. You have nothing to fear from me.”

“Are you a soldier? A killer of men?”

“Yes.”

“Give me your word as a soldier that I will come to no harm from you.”

“I give you, my word.”

Rasheed removed the gun from Lilly’s head and handed it to Konan. Lilly punched Rasheed in the mouth.

“That’s for putting a gun to my head, idiot!” Rasheed wiped at the blood from his mouth and nodded. Konan watched the scene play out. Lilly walked off to calm down, Konan motioned to a chair for Rasheed to sit in.

Rasheed nodded toward Lilly. “She is fierce.” Konan nodded and said, “yeah.”

“You had questions?”

“Why would anyone kill Talia?”

“I don’t know. She was a good woman.”

“Whoever killed her made it look like an honor killing. You know that, right?”

Tears welled up in Rasheed’s eyes. He stared at the floor. Lilly had walked up, she looked like she wanted to throttle Rasheed, but she kept her cool. 

“My sins have caught up with me. They will not let me live a peaceful life,” he muttered quietly.

“What sin? Who will not let you live a peaceful life?”

“When I was, um, extreme in my beliefs, I performed honor killings. You must understand, my faith needed protecting. Those who turned their backs on the faith needed to be punished.”

“You were hired to kill those who left the faith?”

“Yes.”

“And now, you say that your sins haunting you.”

“Yes.”

“Who would kill Talia to strike back at you?”

“I don’t know.”

After more questions, all which Rasheed answered, Konan and Lilly had no more insight into the murders than when they first showed up. Lilly had told Rasheed not to leave town. They left the abandoned factory and stepped out into the humid blanket left in the wake of the storm. 

Across town, Khalid Abbas sat outside a café and waited for his guest. His day to ascend had come. It began with the news that Ted Wright had stepped down. This would now propel him to the political heights he had long sought after. He stroked his beard and smiled. “Things are coming together just as I have envisioned,” he thought. 

A hand touched his shoulder. He turned to face who dared to touch him. There was no one there. He turned back around. Across from him sat his guest. 

“Good afternoon, Khalid. I trust the news has comforted you.”

“Yes. My ascension to power draws nigh. Of course, your efforts on my behalf made this all possible.”

“I did it for the money,” the man said. He stared at Khalid through his mirrored shades. His mouth was a flat line, and Khalid could feel the intensity of his gaze upon him.

“Right, the money. It’s in the bus locker that you requested.” William ‘Deadeyes’ Blankenship forced a smile. Khalid squirmed uncomfortably in his seat.

“The key,” Blankenship asked in a quiet voice that barely moved the wind. 

“It’s under your placemat.”

Blankenship lifted one corner and pulled out the key. Khalid smiled. Blankenship took the key and put it in his pocket. 

“Enjoy your meal, Khalid. I have things to do.” Khalid nodded his head and thanked him for his help. He watched as the large black man walked down away.

Khalid wiped his hands on the tablecloth. He pulled out his handkerchief and dabbed at the sweat on his brow. Dealing with Blankenship made him nervous. Of course, the man had come with a sterling reputation for getting the job done. 

And he had done the job. 

Still, Khalid wanted nothing more to do with Blankenship. His master plan was underway, and nothing would stop him from achieving his goals.

Konan and Lilly sat quietly outside of the police department. Neither had said much on the drive back into town. Lilly had kept her cool about her experience with Rasheed and the gun, but she was still irate that Konan had not blown Rasheed away.

“What do you think? Do you think Rasheed committed the murder?”

“I don’t know. What do you think?”

“He has the capacity to kill her. He held a gun to my head for God’s sake.”

“Yeah, but do you like him for it?”

“I don’t know. Let’s ride over and see Ally. She might have dug up something else.”

“Yeah.”

Konan drove to the morgue and pulled close to the door. Lilly and Konan walked in. The same security guard sat at his desk. He handed Lilly the clipboard and she signed them in.

Ally saw them coming and waved them into her office. She nodded to them and put on her glasses. 

“I was just going to call you guys.”

“You found something,” Konan said. 

“Yeah,” Ally replied. Lilly walked over and sat at the desk. Ally pulled up images of the cuts on Talia. She motioned for Konan to come over. 

“You see this right here,” she said as she pointed at the cuts. These are normal for the garrote. “You see though how these cuts are different from these.”

“Yeah, they aren’t as deep as these,” Lilly answered. She leaned closer to look at the image. 

“He let off the pressure,” Konan said. “The killer asked her something and when she wouldn’t answer he tightened the wire.”

“Exactly,” Ally said. “That’s why there are various degrees of cuts. Whoever did this was looking for something. The victim suffered tremendously.”

“Exactly how did she die,” Konan asked. Lilly leaned back and watched Ally.

“The garrote didn’t kill her,” Ally began. “When she began to struggle against the garrote, her arteries tore, and blood entered the arterial wall. Layers of the arterial wall splintered, and she had a stroke.”

“Jesus,” Lilly whispered. Her face turned pale, and she shook her head. 

“I also found coagulated blood in esophagus. The oxygenated blood could not reach her brain, and a blood jam occurred. This woman suffered greatly before she died. She lost control of her bowels as well.”

Konan nodded and said ‘thanks’ to Ally. He tapped Lilly on the shoulder, and they walked out to the car. The humidity was thick enough to cut.  Konan drove back to the abandoned factory. 

“What are we doing here, Konan?”

“I want to ask Rasheed something to verify what I think I know.” Lilly nodded. They found Rasheed on the second floor staring out the large window. He had a foot on the desk. He looked up when Konan and Lilly drew near.

“You’re back,” Rasheed grunted. Konan forced a smile. “You’ve discovered something?”

“Not yet,” Konan said. He walked over to where Rasheed sat and pulled a metal bucket to him. Konan sat down. Rasheed watched him closely. Experience was a cruel teacher. One could never be too aware, especially when people did not appear dangerous.

“You carried out honor killings, right?”

“Yes.”

“How did you carry out these executions?”

Rasheed stared out the window. Konan watched him; Rasheed seemed truly remorseful.

“Different ways. Some were shot, others were beheaded.”

“What is the preferred method?”

“Garrote.” Konan pulled out a picture of Talia’s wounds and laid it upon the table. He pointed at the wound.

“Like this?”

Rasheed sobbed and put his forehead down on the picture. His tears wet the image. Konan leaned forward and touched Rasheed’s shoulder. 

“Was it like this?”

“No. I made one smooth cut.” Rasheed’s words caught on his throat. He wiped at his tears with the back of his hand.

“Let me tell you what we think happened, Rasheed. My partner and I think Talia knew something she shouldn’t have known. Someone found out that she knew it and hired someone like you to end her. If they could not hire you, who would be next on the list?”

“I don’t know. I turned away from that life.”

“You see these cuts? The killer put so much pressure on her throat that the arteries tore. This has nothing to do with your religion. This brutality was caused by someone who enjoyed their work.”

“I don’t know,” Rasheed muttered. “I don’t know…”

Konan flung the bucket he had been sitting on at the wall. He jammed a finger in Rasheed’s chest and shouted, “I don’t believe you!”

Lilly pulled Konan back, shocked at his anger. Konan put his hands up and walked to the window. He punched through the glass. 

“I wouldn’t be hiding in an abandoned factory if this had happened to my girl,” Konan yelled. He slammed his injured hand on the table. “I would be out there hunting the person who killed her. Who did she cross? Tell me you sack of goat dung!”

Lilly stepped between Rasheed and Konan. She put her hand on Konan’s chest. “You need to calm down,” she whispered. Konan waved his hands dismissively and walked back to the window.

“Talia knew everybody. She helped everyone. One day she had a visit from one of the local men. He wanted her to do something for him. She refused. I don’t know nothing more than that.”

“What was his name,” Lilly pressed. Rasheed sighed. 

“Khalid. His name is Khalid Abbas.”

Lilly squinted at Rasheed. “Khalid Abbas why does that sound familiar,” she muttered. 

“Khalid ran for governor a couple of years ago, and narrowly lost,” Rasheed responded.  Lilly snapped her fingers and shook her head. 

“That’s right. People said his views were too extreme,” Lilly said. Konan continued to stare out the window. He’d found a dirty rag and wrapped it around his injured hand. 

Lilly walked over to Konan. “Come on,” she said quietly. “Let’s go ring Khalid’s doorbell.”

Khalid Abbas lived in the richest neighborhood of Fredericksburg. The elite of the town resided in Briar-Stone. Metal fences protected the backyards. Every house had a driveway. The driveway had a gate at the entrance. 

Compared to the luxury homes built throughout Briar-Stone, Khalid’s home seemed paltry. 

The five-bedroom home was hidden from the main road. The drive snaked around into a hidden corner surrounded by tall pine and White Oak trees. Khalid, an avid collector of old cars, had spared no expense on his garage. Ten could be parked within it. He was proud of his home, but desired more of everything. More wealth, more power, a bigger house, nothing was off limits to him. 

Lilly pulled the unmarked squad car up to the intercom by the gate. Konan got out and pressed the button. It was mere seconds when Khalid’s voice came through the speaker.

“Can I help you,” he said in a curt manner. Konan nodded at the security camera hoisted above the gate. 

“Yep, I’m Detective Konan. We have some question about Talia Omar.”

“Okay. Follow the driveway down.”

The gate buzzed and began to open. Konan got in the car and sighed. Lilly pulled through the gate. 

“How did he sound,” Lilly asked. Konan shrugged and cracked his neck. 

“He sounded like he expected us to show up. You question him, Lilly.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. I need get my hand taken care of. I will be in when it’s took care of.”

“Alright.”

Lilly pulled up short of the house. She got out and whistled. It was a beautiful house. Konan got out and pulled out a first aid kit from behind the seat. He cleaned his wound and ripped open the bandage with his teeth.

Lilly was met at the door by Khalid. He smiled at Lilly, she smiled back. Lilly waved her hand at his home. 

“You have a beautiful place here,” she said. He nodded and said, “it will do for now. Please, come in.”

Lilly smiled and pointed at the car. Khalid looked in the direction she pointed.

“My partner injured his hand. He’s cleaning it. If you don’t mind, I would rather wait for him.”

Khalid snapped his finger and a small woman, no younger than 75, conversed with Khalid in their native tongue. She started for the car.

“Your partner will join us in a moment. Grandmother will bring him in when she has bandaged his wound.”

Lilly said okay and followed Khalid into the house. 

“So, you have questions about Talia Omar. I heard she was found dead, such a horrible place the world has become.”

“Yes, it is sad.”

Khalid led Lilly to an expansive sitting room. He motioned for Lilly to have a seat, and he sat across from her. Footsteps sounded down the hall as Konan and Grandmother made their way into the room.

Konan nodded to Khalid; Khalid nodded back. He sat next to Lilly.

“How did you hurt your hand, Detective,” Khalid asked. Konan forced a smile. 

“A flash of temper and reaction, I’m afraid.” Konan feigned embarrassment. Khalid smiled. 

“How did you know Talia,” Lilly asked. 

“She is a member of our community. She helped many during tough times. I sought her help once.”

“Did she help you?”

“She did not have the means to help me.”

“What did you seek help with?”

“I asked her to join my campaign as a financial advisor. She refused. We disagreed on several issues. We went our separate ways.”

“So, you did not have any issues with her refusal,” Lilly said. Konan watched Khalid. He showed no outward signs of stress. “He’s a cool customer,” Konan thought. 

“No. I had no problem with her refusal. America’s greatness comes from accepting those we disagree with. We can disagree and not worry that some person is going to behead us for it.”

“Was that the last time you saw her?”

“Yes. I have hired people who do my shopping for me, so my time in the markets is limited.”

“Okay. I have no further questions, unless my partner thought up some.”

“I do have one question, sir.”

Khalid forced a smile, Konan smiled back. 

“Did you know that the killer made Talia’s death look like an honor killing?”

Khalid said nothing for a moment, he stared at Konan. Then, he flashed a quick smile and shook his head. 

“No, I did not know that.”

“Ah. I thought you might have some information since you brought up beheadings.”

“I’m afraid not.”

“Many have said you lost your first run because of the extremeness of your views. Do you agree with beheading those who turned on your faith? It’s just between us.”

“I believe those who turned need punishment. Whatever punishment is decided is righteous.”

“That’s not a yes or a no,” Konan said. Khalid smiled. 

“No, it is not. It is best to leave the punishment to those in charge.”

“If you were going to have someone killed, for honorable reasons of course, who would you call?”

Khalid laughed, it sounded as fake as the answers he gave. He made a show of it. Khalid wiped at his eyes and put a hand on his belly. 

“Oh, Detective, there’s no list of executioners you call to handle such business. Even if there were, I would have no use for it.”

Konan stood; Lilly joined him. Khalid led them to the door. Konan turned and smiled at Khalid. 

“Thanks for answering our questions. You’ve been a great help to us.”

“You’re welcome, Detectives. I wish you good fortune in finding Talia’s killer.”

Konan and Lilly walked to the car. Lilly waited. This case seemed clumpy to her, like unformed dough. 

“Do you think he did it, Konan?”

“I think he hired someone to do it.”

“He was very calm about the whole thing,” Lilly said. “The only thing that stood out to me was his reaction when you asked him about honor killings.”

“Yeah, he was too calm. It seemed like he expected us and knew the questions were coming.”

“Khalid doesn’t seem like the kind of person who is used to being rejected,” Lilly said as she guided the car through the gate.

“I waited for him to crack a joke. You know, something like: This dude on a bicycle fell off and broke his neck. A group of people gathered around, and someone yelled, “Please call a doctor!”

A guy runs up and said, “I’m a doctor!”

“What kind of doctor,” the person yelled.

“A doctor of mathematics!”

“This guy fell and broke his neck!”

The doctor looked at the body and said, “Minus one.”

Konan waited for Lilly to laugh, but it never came. Lilly shook her head and said, “that’s horrible.”

They rode back to the station. While Lilly drove, Konan thought of Khalid. ‘The guy is too smooth. He’s greasy, you can’t hold him.’

“Konan. Hello, Earth to Konan.”

“Sorry, Lilly. What’s up?”

“How do you think we should proceed?”

“We need a list of his campaign workers, house staff, and any involved with him on any level, personal or professional.”

“You’re putting all your chips on Khalid?”

“Yeah, I’m going all in.”

Lilly cocked her head and stared at Konan. “Why is he so angry,” she wondered. This case, their first, seemed to have evolved into a personal conquest. As if Konan would not be satisfied until someone paid for the crime in blood. 

“You’re target locked, Konan.”

“What do you mean, Lilly. I felt that Khalid was our guy from jump street.”

“That’s what I am talking about. You didn’t ‘feel’ this way about Rasheed, and he committed heinous acts just like the one perpetrated on Talia.”

“Rasheed was remorseful. Khalid is too smooth. I’m telling you…”

“Remorse is not a symptom of innocence, Konan. Why are you dead set that Rasheed is innocent? Where is your evidence that he is guiltless of this crime?”

Konan rubbed his forehead and temples. He shook his head in disgust. 

“I don’t have anything, just what I feel in my guts.”

“It’s entirely possible that both men are culpable of the deed. Sure, Rasheed seemed remorseful, but he also put a gun to my head. Don’t forget that small detail.”

“Yeah,” Konan said. This case was moving too fast, or he was moving too slow. Leads were few, and Konan was torn between his past and this case.

“Let’s get some coffee,” Lilly said. She drove them to a small café that was on the corner down from the station. Konan got out and sat at a table near the largest window in the building. 

“Here you go, partner. Some much needed brain juice to the rescue.”

Konan took the coffee and blew on it. Lilly sat across from him. She stared out the window at the puddles left by the storm. 

“I’m sorry, Lilly. It wasn’t professional of me to put all my eggs in Khalid’s basket.”

“It’s okay. I haven’t grasped why you’re so angry. I’m sure you have your reasons, but we need to get the right guy for the crime.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Why are you so angry?”

Konan rubbed his temples and stared out the window. Tears wetted his eyes. He blinked them away. 

“There was a third honor killing that I saw. Her name was Aida. She was born in the Middle East but grew up in America. When the war kicked off, she went back to her place of birth. She and her family moved back because they loved their country. They wanted to help.”

Konan sipped his coffee and stared at a puddle of muddy water. A car passed by and splashed water on the window. He wiped at the tear that stained his cheek. 

“They had two beautiful daughters. Aida was our interpreter. She went out on missions with us. One day, she didn’t show. Then, it was a week. Two weeks. We found their bodies in a drainage ditch on one of our patrols. “

Lilly covered her mouth and stayed quiet. “Poor guy…”

“Aida’s children were abused, tortured, and then killed. She and her husband were made to watch. Or that was what we assumed. The husband received the same treatment, he just lasted longer.”

“And Aida?”

“We only found her head. The rest of her body had disappeared. We figured they fed her to the wild dogs.”

“Oh my God…”

“Did no one investigate?”

“Investigate? Who had time to investigate? It was rumored that they were betrayed by our side, but horrors happened daily in that country. War was carried out. Evil happened so frequently no one could keep up. Sure, it was reported. People were assigned, but the backlog of tragedies were astronomical.”

“Maybe we should be reassigned to something less…”

“No, Lilly. I’ll keep my emotions in check. Let’s get this solved.”

“Can you do that? Can you keep your emotions balanced?”

“Yeah.”

“Did they ever find out who killed Aida and her family? Did they discover who sold them out to the insurgency?”

“I don’t know. The last I heard was they suspected a Non-Commissioned Officer named Blankenship in our unit. I don’t think anything ever came of it.”

“He was in your unit? Did you know him?”

“He was assigned to my unit to bolster our numbers. I knew of him, met him a time or two between missions. That was it.”

“Why was he suspected of betraying them?”

“Again, I don’t know. Something happened to his squad, I think. It was before he came over to us.”

“We need to find out what happened. We also need to see if he knew Rasheed or Khalid, and if they had any dealings with each other.”

“Yeah, I agree,” Konan said as he wiped at his eyes. “Maybe we can put both cases to bed with one swing of the bat.”

Konan and Lilly strode into the police station together. They now had a purpose and multiple leads to check out.  Tia Mathers waited for them at the elevator. 

“What do you have to say for yourselves?”

Lilly shrugged and stayed silent. Konan waited for the other shoe to drop. There’s always another shoe, he thought to himself.

“What part of your investigation led you to Khalid Mohammed? Do you know who he is,” Tia screeched. 

“Yeah, we know who he is, “Konan said. “He is a person of interest in this murder we are investigating.”

Tia Mathers drew close to Konan, close enough he could smell the cheap vodka on her breath, and whispered, “I told you I would get you. You’re done.”

Lilly stepped to her partner’s side. She met Tia’s hateful glare with one of her own. 

“He ain’t going nowhere, Tia. If you fire him, you fire me. Khalid is a person of interest; we will work to clear him as fast as we can. He answered our questions. We have leads that need following, if you’ll excuse us.”

Lilly pressed the button and motioned for Konan to come to her side. Tia licked her lips and glared at Lilly.

“I’d be careful who I hitched my wagon to, Lilly. If he goes down, so will you.”

The elevator dinged and the doors opened. Lilly turned to face Tia. She locked eyes with her. 

“I’ll remember that boss. You should probably take your own advice.”

Lilly and Konan rode the elevator to the second floor. They walked into the murder room and sat down at their desk. Manson and Rankin came over.

“I heard y’all going over and bugging innocent people,” Manson said. She curled her lips at the sight of Konan. 

“You have to understand, Manson. That’s the Thermopolis Konan method. Instead of looking for the killers, he goes off and looks for someone to blame for his inadequacies.”

Manson snorted. “Sounds about right.”

Konan smiled. Lilly never looked up. 

“Speaking of inadequacies Rankin, how’s your wife and my kids,” Konan asked. Lilly giggled. Rankin flushed red. 

“Why you piece of…” 

Konan leaned back in his chair and waited for Rankin to finish his sentence, but it never came. Manson stepped between Rankin and Konan. 

“You know, Mason. When you curl your lips up in scorn, you look like you’re prepared to kiss a hog’s rear end. Or maybe just Rankin. Either way, it’s a bad look for you. Now that you know, do better.”

Manson’s veins protruded from her forehead as she dragged her partner from Konan. Lilly laughed and looked up.

“Are you through antagonizing the children,” she asked. Konan smiled. 

“Yeah. You know that Mason is so ugly you’d have to tie a pork chop bone around her neck to get the dogs to play with her.”

Lilly giggled and said, “she probably says the same thing about you.”

“Probably.”

While Lilly dug into Khalid’s financial data and relationships, Konan placed a call to the Department of Defense. They answered on the third ring.

“Good afternoon, this is Tiffany. How may I direct your call?”

“Hi, Tiffany. I am Detective Sergeant Konan. Could you connect me with Personnel Records, please?”

“One moment.”

Three rings later, Konan was transferred to Personnel Records.  A grumpy voiced person answered the phone.

“Yeah?”

“I’m Detective Sergeant Konan. I am trying to get a copy of Staff Sergeant William Blankenship’s records.”

“For what end?”

“He is a person of interest in a murder investigation.”

“You need to fill out several forms before I hand over a copy of a soldier’s record. Do you have the forms?”

“This is the first I’ve heard of needing forms. What forms do I….”

“You need the forms, period. There’s no way around it. Get the forms filled out and notarized. Send them in and it will take up to five weeks before they are sent to you. IF your request is approved.”

“Maybe you miss…”

“GET THE FORMS FILLED…”

“STOP INTERRUPTING ME!”

Quiet filled the airwaves. Konan cleared his throat. 

“You’re about the rudest idiot I’ve dealt with today. This is a murder investigation. I’m not waiting five weeks for incompetent people to remove your head from your butts. Send the records to this email.”

Konan rattled off his email and hung up the phone. Lilly stifled a smile and continued her search. Konan leaned back and stretched. ‘No wonder the world is in the shape it’s in. Between the bureaucrats and red tape nothing gets done.’

“Have you found anything, Lilly?”

“Yeah, check this out.” She handed a slip of paper to him. Konan put his glasses on and began to read. 

“Well, how about that,” he muttered. 

“Wanna go see what Rasheed has to say now?”

“Yep. Let’s ride.”

The sun had shined briefly after the rain ceased. Between the wet asphalt and the blazing sun, the humidity rose quickly. It felt as a wet blanket had descended upon them and weighed about their necks. The sun was out only for a moment. It disappeared behind the darkened firmament. 

Lilly drove them to the abandoned factory. She darted masterfully between her opponents who shared the road with her. Konan put his hand on the roof to brace himself. Between her sudden lane changes and tailgating, Konan was having a hard time remaining upright.

They finally arrived. Konan exited the vehicle and bent at the waist. Lilly grinned. 

“You can’t hack it, eh?”

“I can hack it,” Konan muttered. Lilly giggled and scrunched up her nose.

“No, you can’t.”

She’s right, Konan thought. He wanted to admit his defeat, but he wasn’t a quitter. ‘I’ll find a way to power through.’

They walked into the abandoned factory. Long, dark shadows lurked in the building. Konan pulled out his light. They made their way to the top floor. The mannequins appeared sinister in the low light. 

Rasheed sat in the open, his handgun was to his left. He stared out the window. He never moved. Lilly approached him from the side. 

“Konan…”

Rasheed was dead. His color was gray. 

A blood-stained piece of paper was on the desk. There were no empty casings from the pistol. There were no wounds on his body. Rasheed’s hands were folded. 

It was the prettiest ‘suicide’ scene Konan ever saw. He called it in. While they waited, they observed the scene.

“Konan listen to this.”

 “The police came today and told me that my one true love had died in the fashion of an honor killing. I was powerless to stop it. I can’t bear the thought of her suffering; I can’t bear the shame.”

Konan took the letter from Lilly. The copperish smell of blood was strong on the letter. The handwriting was neat. It was too tidy.

“He knew the killer,” Lilly said. Konan nodded. 

“Rasheed knew how and when the murder would occur. He lied to us, and I never saw it.”

“Khalid must have known we would discover that he, Talia, and Rasheed came to the States together. There is no other explanation.”

“Maybe, but it is all too convenient, dontcha think?”

Lilly shrugged and sat next to the body. The wail of the ambulance announced its arrival. Ally brought her bag with her, two men shoved/carried the gurney up the stairs. 

Ally stared at Lilly and Konan and then the stiff. She knelt beside Rasheed and tested his temperature. She glanced up at Lilly and said, “y’all visit the nicest places.”

“It’s not by design, Ally. Do you have a time of death?”

“About two or three hours ago. Did you guys find him like this?”

“Yep,” Lilly said. Ally nodded. Konan stared at the desk. Everything had a place, not seemed disturbed. 

“How soon before you can tell if it was a suicide or murder,” he asked Ally. She squinted at him.

“Do you think it’s a murder?”

“I’m not sure, Ally. He was a person of interest in our investigation and suddenly he is dead. It makes a guy wonder.”

Ally shook her head and sighed. It seemed she would never catch up with the backlog of cases she already had on the table. 

“Everybody wants to be first,” she muttered. Konan’s eyes grew narrow, and his mouth tightened into a hard line. Lilly put her hand on his shoulder. 

“We don’t mean to add to your workload, Ally,” Lilly said. “It’s important that we know if it is a suicide or not.”

“Give me some time and I’ll run up a full battery of tests. You’ll know something tomorrow.”

“Okay.”

Konan and Lilly departed from the factory after ensuring that any potential evidence was gathered. He still carried the note in his hand. Konan pointed at it. 

“You see the blood, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Lilly said. “I see it. What about it?”

“There is blood on the paper, but none on Rasheed. So, if it’s not Rasheed’s blood, whose is it?”

“The killer’s,” Lilly gasped. “He was murdered.”

“Yeah. Rasheed was killed. By whom remains to be seen. His weapon and the blood need testing. We need to know what killed Rasheed.”

“The whole scene was staged.”

“Like cheap theater,” Konan said. 

As they walked toward the car, the rain started to fall again. Konan turned and looked at the abandoned factory. It looked like something from an old black-an-white film. “What a horrible place to die in. It’s like being discarded like some unwanted thing.”

He knew a thing or two about unwanted things. 

Lilly drove them back to the station. They said goodbye to each other, and Konan walked to the bus stop. It was a quiet night. Per usual, the rain brought out lots of drivers. The bus pulled up to the stop, Konan boarded it. He walked to the back and took a seat in the last row. Few people were on the bus. An elderly woman sat up front. A man wearing a hoodie, with the hood up, sat midway on the right. 

Konan leaned back against the seat and shut his eyes. The day had tired him out. Air hissed when the driver tapped on the brakes. Konan opened his eyes. The old lady had got off the bus. Only he and the hooded man remained. 

The driver started toward the next stop. A few moments later, the brakes hissed again. Konan stood and made his way down the aisle. As he passed the hooded man, he spoke.

“Have a nice evening, Konan.”

Konan muttered, ‘you too,’ and got off the bus. He started down the dirt road that led to his house. Long shadows cast by hanging branches played out on the road.

He made it to his mobile home and unlocked the door. Konan stepped in, shut the door, and reached for the light. He flicked it on.  Light chased away the shadows. 

After showering, he put on clean pajamas, socks, and a tee-shirt. He padded into the living room, sat in his recliner and went through the day’s events. “Someone went through a lot of trouble to make it look like Rasheed killed himself. Except they left trace evidence on the letter. Or was it intentional?”

Konan decided to turn in early. He stretched out on the couch and fell into a deep slumber. Whatever problems hatched during the night; he would take care of in the morning.

A couple hundred miles away, William Blankenship rode a bus like the one that dropped Konan off.  He sat in the back. He always sat in the back, it allowed him to view every person who got on the bus. His phone dinged, he peeked at the screen.

“We need to talk,” the message read. ‘Deadeyes’ Blankenship got off the bus at the next stop. He walked six blocks and used a payphone to call the sender of the message.

“Double Time Solutions and Problem Solvers,” the electronic voice answered. Blankenship waited. 

“Press one for a quick remedy to a time sensitive issue, press two for a private meeting with a consultant, press three for a connection with your handler.”

Blankenship pressed three. His call was routed through a series of buffers, various encryptions, and then answered. 

“Have you seen the news,” a digital voice asked. 

“No, I’ve just returned,” Blankenship said. 

“Rasheed is dead. Someone killed him and tried to make it look like a suicide.”

Blankenship rubbed his forehead. ‘Freaking amateurs.’ The line grew silent. Blankenship waited for the next shoe to drop. ‘There’s always another shoe.’

“What should I do?”

“Go back to the site. Purge it.”

“Listen, I did the job. I got out clean. This ain’t my mess…”

“Go back and purge it,” the digital voice answered. “Your loyalty is appreciated.”

A click sounded as the line was disconnected. Blankenship muttered under his breath. ‘This ain’t right. There’s a fly in the ointment.’

Sometimes, the problem with being for hire is that unethical people hire you with no intention of holding up their end. Of course, when you are a killer for hire betrayal is expected.

There is nothing that can be done about it. Nothing can stop it, not even time. Blankenship shook his head in disgust. ‘Friends come and friends go, but human nature is forever.’

Blankenship swung by his apartment and swapped out his clothes. His apartment was representative of the man. The apartment was sparingly furnished, it was devoid of any trace of his personality.

If Blankenship had a personality, it would come as a surprise to all who knew him. His transactions were as simple as his life and apartment. The mantra he lived by was, ‘hire me, pay me.’

He discarded his clothes into the laundry basket. His neighbor, Shanna, would come in and tidy up. Blankenship walked out to the bus stop and caught a bus to downtown.  He needed a few things from his storage unit.

Midtown Storage was an unmanned storage facility in a nice neighborhood.  The rich did not live here, but they had no problem with visiting (as long as they were home before dark.)  Outside the storage unit was a shack.  Inside sat the main security guard, Timmy.  He waved at Blankenship. 

“Afternoon, sir. How’s it going?”

“Alright,” Blankenship said as he walked by. 

He made his way to the first row and unlocked his unit.  A lone chest was shoved in the back corner. The old tactical chest had been to various warzones throughout its lifetime.  Blankenship unlocked it and took out a stack of money. He shoved it into his backpack, along with a Sig Sauer 9mm.  The last thing he put in was five magazines.

“This betrayal is personal, so my revenge.  She will rue the day she crossed me.”

Ilhan Abbas sipped her cup of tea and smiled. ‘So far everything has gone according to plan.’  Her husband, Khalid, would never know of her steps to secure his power. She was okay with him not knowing.

Her past would never threaten her again. She would not have to live in fear of Khalid finding out the things that kept her awake at night. Only one matter needed to be handled.  “Blankenship. He was the right man for many jobs, but he has outlived his usefulness.”

After Blankenship got his bags together, he had one more stop to make.  His mother, Beth or Big B as her friends knew her, stored his vehicle. Of course, it was not in his name. Beth signed her name to the title, bought the license plate for it, and kept insurance on it. It was a 1987 Chrysler New Yorker, a classic. 

Big B was sitting on the porch when he got off the bus. She watched as he crossed the street, his backpack slung over his shoulder.

“Hey, baby. You just getting in or heading out,” she asked. He leaned over and pecked his mom on the cheek. 

“Just getting in and heading back out.”

“Good Lord, son. You have to slow down.”

“Yeah. Listen momma, you need to get out of town. Don’t fight me on this. Take the package I gave you and get on the bus. I don’t need to know where you are.  Don’t even take a bag. Get up and go to the bus stop.”

‘The package,’ was 150,000 dollars. He gave it to her as a ‘do-over’ in case his work ever snaked back to bite him. Blankenship kissed his mom goodbye, and she pulled him into a fierce hug.

“You find ‘em, and you kill ‘em. Then you come back home. You understand me?”

“I understand, momma.”

“I’ll see you down the river, son. Be safe.”

“Safe don’t get it done, momma.”

Big B turned and took one last look at her son. Then, she turned and walked to the bus stop. ‘If you don’t come home, I understand. Make sure you end those deceitful fools. The world is too small to deal with those kinds of people.”

Konan’s phone rang at 0230. He glanced at the screen. “Who is calling at this time of the morning?”It was Lilly. He hung up the phone and rolled over. His phone rang again.

“Yeah?”

“We caught another one.”

“Don’t these guys ever take a day off,” Konan grumbled. Lilly snickered. 

“No rest for the wicked, bud.”

Konan sighed and struggled to put on his pants. It was entirely too early to be wearing khakis, a button-down shirt, and a blazer. “Whoever the victim is they don’t care what I wear to their body. They’re dead.”

Lilly picked him up fifteen minutes later. She appeared as fresh as a newborn. He nodded and fell into the passenger seat. 

“You look tired,” Lilly said. Konan squirmed in the blazer. His blazer, shirt and tie were all black. He wore white athletic socks with his penny loafers. Lilly grinned and looked straight ahead to avoid commenting on his outfit. 

“You look nice,” she said as they drove to the scene. Konan nodded.

“Seemed appropriate since the victim is no longer among the living.”

“Those socks seemed appropriate,” Lilly asked laughingly.

“What’s wrong with my socks?”

“You know that band The Clash?”

“Yeah. What about them?”

“That’s what your clothes are doing.”

It took Konan a moment to grasp what Lilly implied. When it finally dawned on him, he scowled at her.

“Bite me,” he said. 

Lilly laughed and jerked the wheel to the left to avoid a slower driver. Konan braced for the impact that never came.

“It’s early, sweetie. Don’t poke the bear.”

“Who’s died now,” Konan asked. Lilly turned her head and glanced at him. For not the first time, Konan was struck by her beauty. Lilly was not one who needed tons of makeup to be beautiful. She was a natural beauty. ‘Quit it,” Konan thought, ‘you don’t need this to be complicated. Just focus on the case, not your partner.’

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” Lilly responded. Konan shrugged and said okay. If she thought he would not believe her, there was no reason to bug her about it.

Lilly waited for Konan to say something, but he never did. She pulled up in front of Khalid’s manor. Two patrol cars with lights flashing were parked at an angle. Lilly pulled in behind one. 

‘Now, he will ask,” Lilly thought. Konan said nothing to her about it. He started for the front door; Lilly rushed to catch up.

“What’s going on with you this morning,” she asked. He shrugged.

“It was a bad night.”

When they got to the door, the elderly woman known as ‘grandmother’ ushered them into the dining room. Khalid sat at the table. 

“Good morning, detectives.”

“Good morning,” Lilly and Konan answered. Konan leaned over and whispered to Lilly, “he’s alive.” Khalid heard him. 

“Yes, I am alive. It is my wife that was murdered.”

“Oh,” Konan said. “I am sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.”

“Um, I’m gonna go check with forensics and see what they’ve turned up,” Lilly said. Konan nodded. Khalid motioned for Konan to join him at the table. Konan sat across from him. Khalid uttered a few words to grandmother, and she went into the kitchen. A few moments later, she returned with coffee.

Konan spooned sugar into his cup and stirred it. He blew on the hot liquid and took a sip. Nothing has ever been greater than the first sip of coffee, or at least Konan had never discovered anything that came close to topping it.

“Ask your questions,” Khalid said. 

“Okay,” Konan said after he took another sip of coffee. “Did you kill your wife?”

“No,” Khalid said. “I loved her.”

“You’re aware that most murders involving a spouse is usually committed by the other partner, right? They probably all loved their spouses too, right up until they pushed them too far. Were you home when the deed was done?”

“No. I had a meeting with some fellow political figures.”

“Anybody with you that can vouch for your whereabouts?”

“No, but I can give you the name of one of the persons present at the meeting.”

“That’ll work.”

“Chief of Police Tia Mathers.”

Konan looked at Khalid. His face was blank, his eyes dead to the world. He looked reptilian. ‘His wife is dead in the other room, but here he is sitting at the table drinking coffee like nothing in the world has transpired.”

“Chief Mathers was at your meeting?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, we’ll verify it,” Konan said as he closed his notepad. Lilly walked up and shook her head no. Konan cracked his neck.

“Did your wife have any enemies?”

“She was my wife. My enemies were hers and vice versa.”

“Okay,” Konan sighed. “Did any of YOUR enemies want to kill your wife?”

“No. Ilhan was loved by all that knew her.”

“Well, given the mess in the other room,” Lilly said, “not everyone loved her. Because she’s dead, and someone killed her.”

“Did she keep any secrets from you?”

“No.”

“Okay. One last question if you don’t mind. What time was your meeting?”

“We met at Lott’s Field at 7 p.m.”

“Alright. If we need to follow up with you, we’ll call. Sorry, again.”

“Thank you.”

Grandmother led both detectives to the door and waited for them to depart. At the car, Lilly tossed the keys to Konan.

“You drive. Every time I get behind the wheel you act like I am trying to kill you.”

“Sorry, I survived the war. I would hate to bite the big one here at home because you are in a rush.”

“Just shut up and drive.”

Konan started the car and headed into the heart of town. Lilly was quiet for a bit. Finally, she looked at Konan.

“Do you ever think we are hopelessly outgunned?”

“Sometimes,” Konan said. “Why? What happened?”

“Forensics has the murder weapon. Konan…the killer shoved railroad spikes into her eyes.  She died from shock.”

“Jesus,” Konan said. “That image won’t go well with the donuts and coffee.”

Lilly punched him in the shoulder and snorted. Konan pulled into the drive-thru window and ordered a dozen donut holes, a couple of dozen mixed donuts, and two chocolate milk. He looked at Lilly.

“You want anything,” he asked. Lilly shook her head and laughed. Konan pulled around to pay. ‘I lucked out,’ Lilly thought. ‘I could have done far worse than having Konan as my partner.’

Konan drove to a park next to the river. They got out and walked to a concrete picnic table. Konan sat on the tabletop and put his feet on the bench. Lilly followed suit. He started on the donut holes and offered some to Lilly. She pulled out a handful. They ate in silence and watched the sun come up. 

“It sure is pretty, ain’t it,” Konan said. Lilly nodded with a mouthful of donut holes. She washed it down with chocolate milk.

“Sure is.”

“This is where I come when my mind won’t shut up. Seeing the worst of human nature can take a toll on us, Lilly. You have to remind yourself that there are good things in the world also.”

“Good things,” Lilly scoffed, “such as…”

“Baseball, bacon, Tom and Jerry, Scooby Doo, and me.”

“Tom and Jerry and Scooby are fictional characters, bacon is food, baseball is ugh, but I see your point.”

“Good. I kind of like having you around.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, now shut up and eat your box of donuts. We need to get back; I need to speak to Chief Mathers and check my email.”

“Why do you need to see Tia,” Lilly asked. Konan finished off his chocolate milk and looked at his partner.

“Because Tia Mathers is Khalid’s alibi.”

Lilly stared at Konan and shook her head. “Why would Tia associate herself with the likes of Khalid,” she thought. 

“Why would she hang with people like Khalid,” Konan asked Lilly.

“I don’t know,” Lilly sighed in exasperation. “Khalid has appeared on our scope for numerous activities, but there was never enough proof to hang him with it. Tia knows all this.”

“Clearly, she doesn’t care.”

“I’d be careful, Konan. She’s already headhunting you.”

“Yeah, that’s why you’re going to talk to her.”

“Oh no…no, no…you’re not putting that on me.”

“Fine, I’ll do it. I hope you’re ready to break in a new partner, because Tia will crucify me in the squad room.”

Lilly crossed her arms and stared out the passenger side window. The silence between both grew. Konan pulled into the garage and shut off the car. 

“Check your email, Konan. I will talk to Tia.”

“You don’t have to. I can do it.”

“No. She won’t expect to get coldcocked by me. Get us a name.”

“Ok.”

They walked into the squad room together. Konan sat at his computer and opened his email, Lilly knocked on Tia’s door. Tia waved her on in. Lilly shut the door.

Konan found two messages in his email, one from the Defense Department, the other from his former commander, Wills Wilson.  He opened the DD’s first.  It was the enlistment record of William Blankenship. According to his record, he still served in the military. There was no date of discharge. Konan picked up his phone and dialed personnel records directly.

“Records, this is Gabe.”

“Hi, Gabe. This is Detective Thermopolis Konan. I have a quick question.”

“Shoot.”

“The record I am looking at has no date of discharge…”

“They currently are serving in the military then.”

“Ok, there’s also no sign of him being assigned to any post.”

“Ok.”

“What do you mean ok? All military personnel are assigned somewhere.”

“Apparently not the person you’re interested in.”

“Let me speak to your supervisor.”

“They’re not in.”

Konan hung up the phone. “Typical governmental bullcrap,” Konan fumed under his breath. “God, I hate those idiots.” He opened his second email. He smiled fondly as he thought of Wills. He began to read:

“Hey, bud. It’s Wills. I heard through the grapevine that you are looking for Staff Sergeant Blankenship. Dude, he’s a bad egg. Whatever you are investigating, let it slide, brother. 

I hope things are looking up for you, brother. You won’t quit investigating. I know this. You’re too hardheaded to heed my advice, but I felt better putting it in there.”

Konan paused and stretched his arms over his head. ‘Why would Wills warn me off?” He continued reading.

Blankenship is still in, but he is an operator. He has taken on the worst assignments and killed a boatload of people. Rumor is he is a political ‘problem solver.’ Meaning, he kills the fools that would dare cross any politician, regardless of party, race, creed or any other crap. He is a stone-cold killer. 

Brother, I know you swore to uphold the law, BUT if you must tango with Blankenship, screw the law. Shoot him and continue to shoot until you’ve ran out of bullets. He won’t go easy. 

Take it easy, amigo. If you’re ever down Mexico way, swing by and we’ll catch up. Talk later.”

While Konan looked up the record, Lilly met with Tia. The captain waved Lilly to a chair and waited. Tia had never been one to shy away from a confrontation. She was prepared for one now. Her eyes grew dark and her breathing shallow. On the wall behind her desk hung a sign that read: Fortune favors the bold.

“You guys caught the Khalid case didn’t you,” Tia asked Lilly. 

“Yep,” Lilly said. Tia forced a smile. She was patient, predators always are. 

“Pretty bad?”

Lilly nodded her head and took a deep breath. “Yeah, it was gruesome. Khalid claimed he was in a meeting with you and a few others.”

“He was there. The mayor wanted to run some things by us. We met at Lott’s Field.”

“What time was that?”

“9 p.m.”

“Are you sure about that time?”

“Yes.”

“Thanks.”

Lilly got up and went back to her desk, Konan was on the phone. She waited until he finished his call. When he put the phone down she told him of the discrepancy. 

“Tia said the meeting was at 9.”

“That’s interesting. Khalid said 7.”

“Someone’s lying.”

“Well, I suppose we should pick him up and see what he has to say about it.”

“I suppose so.”

Together they both walked out to the garage. Tia watched from her office. When Konan and Lilly disappeared, she picked up her phone and punched in the number.

Lilly took the keys from Konan and drove them to Khalid’s home. He was sitting on his steps along with his lawyer. Konan walked up and pulled out his handcuffs.

“Khalid Mohammed, you are under arrest for the murder of your wife Ilhan Mohammed. You have the right to an attorney, if you can’t afford one…”

“This is my attorney. She will follow us.” Lilly took Khalid to the car and helped him into the back seat. The attorney watched every move. Konan smiled at her. She met his eyes and walked to her car. 

Lilly drove them back to the station. They walked Khalid into Interrogation Room #1. From behind the mirror, they watched him. Konan cracked his fingers. Tia entered the room.

“Why is he here, Lilly?”

“He told us the meeting was at 7, you said it was at 9.”

“That’s it? For your sake, I hope you have more than that -if you plan to hold him.”

“We won’t know that until we question him,” Konan interjected. Tia stared at him; Konan stared back until she looked away.

“Lilly, you take lead. See what you can get out of him, but remember, he is one of the leading figures in our town.”

“Okay.” Lilly looked at Konan and shrugged. They walked into the room and sat across from Khalid. He smiled at Lilly when she walked to the table.

“It’s nice to see you, Lilly. May I call you Lilly?”

“You can call me Detective Thompson.”

“Yes, Detective Thompson.”

“Do you know why you’re here?”

“Your partner said I killed my wife. It’s a case of mistaken identity.”

“That’s part of it, but more specifically, you told my partner your meeting was at 7. Your alibi said it was 9. Someone told us a fib.”

Khalid smiled. It lit up every part of his face except for his eyes. Konan watched quietly from the corner. 

“Did I say 7? I misspoke earlier. It was at 9.”

Lilly scoffed. She got Khalid’s attorney’s attention and pointed at him. She gave her a crooked grin and said, “this guy.”

“It’s kind of convenient how you ‘misspoke’ earlier. You had no problem swapping the facts around to fit your situation.”

“I was overcome with grief,” Khalid said. Konan laughed. Khalid gave him the same cold smile he had given Lilly.

“You were overcome with grief,” Konan questioned. “You had your indentured servant bring us coffee.”

“And? What does that prove?”

“It doesn’t, just shows that you were not ‘overcome’ with grief. Your dead wife was in the other room, and you ordered a drink.”

Khalid shrugged and laughed. Konan laughed with him.

“Let me ask you something, high-speed. Do you know a William Blankenship?”

Khalid quit laughing. He focused intently on Konan. Lilly and the attorney were forgotten. Konan had broken through the façade.

“No,” Khalid said quietly. “Never heard of him.”

“Hmm. That’s interesting. There’s a rumor that he is a political puppet. He does the dirty work for politicians. I figured someone of your, um, stature, would know him.”

The attorney stepped in when Khalid leaned back in his chair. 

“This interview is over.”

“Interrogation,” Khalid interjected. Konan laughed. He leaned close to Khalid and whispered. 

“We both know this was no interrogation. There’s no blood.”

Konan turned and walked out the door. Tia met him and Lilly in the hallway. She pointed her finger at Konan, her face was flushed red.

“You…you..”

Konan waited for her to finish. Tia turned to Lilly and screamed, “I told you to take lead. You put this,” she pointed at Konan, “on a leash or so help me God, both of you are fired. Without another word, Tia stormed back to her office.

Lilly looked at Konan and shrugged. Konan winked at her. Lilly snorted. 

“I think that went really well,” Konan said. 

“You would,” Lilly laughed. “Tell me of Blankenship.”

Konan and Lilly went to lunch at a rundown pub on the other side of Fredericksburg. Shadows hung heavy in the corners which made it the perfect place to talk of haunting memories. The pub was known as O’Shea’s. 

Paddy O’Shea met the detectives at the door. He put his hand on Konan’s chest and stopped him.

“What brings you rabble rousers around here,” he asked. Konan looked at Paddy’s hand and back at the man. 

“You like that hand,” Konan asked. The man smirked. 

“Yeah, I’m kinda attached to it.” Lilly giggled. Paddy looked at her and grinned. 

“You didn’t say she was so pretty,” Paddy said. Konan blushed, Lilly just raised her eyebrows. Paddy extended his hand to Lilly.

“I’m Paddy O’Shea. Welcome to my pub.”

“Nice to meet you, Paddy. I’m sure you know this already, but I’m Lilly Thompson.”

“Oh yeah, I heard all about you. This dumbfounded heathen is my brother’s illegitimate son. Still, I’ve become attached to the ole lug.”

“Lug? I’m no lug,” Konan said. “You’re the former prizefighter. If there’s a lug here, it’s the guy that decided getting punched in the head was a great career.”

“Don’t forget the body, kid. Great to see you, Konan.” The two men hugged, and Paddy pretended to hit Konan in the jaw, Konan pretended to fall back into the ropes. Lilly laughed at the two men.

Paddy led them to the back room and sat them in the corner booth. Konan sat so he could face the door. Lilly sat facing him. Paddy brought water to the table. 

“Whatcha want to eat, darling?” Lilly shrugged and said, “I don’t know. What’s good?”

“Everything. I’ll just bring you what luggo here is going to get.”

“What is he getting? Steak and fries. Or hash. Something.”

With that said, Paddy disappeared into the kitchen. Konan took a sip of his water and cleared his throat.

“Ok, so about Blankenship…”

“Hold on,” Lilly said. “I have never seen you so relaxed before. Paddy is your uncle?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you really an illegitimate child?”

“Yep.”

“I just met Paddy. Who is your dad?”

“You know ‘Mad’ Michael O’Shea?” Lilly’s eyes grew large, and she nodded her head.

“He’s, my father.”

“The largest crime boss in our part of the world is your dad.”

“Yeah.”

“Holy crap. Isn’t he serving fifty years for having the Whitestone Family rubbed out?”

“Yeah.”

“Holy crap.”

“Yeah. So, do you want to know about Blankenship?”

“Sure.”

“I told you Blankenship…”

“Wait a sec,” Lilly said. “How did your dad take you being a cop?”

“He didn’t. Mad Michael was far too busy to be a doting father. My mom thought it would be cool to be a ‘mafia wife.’ She thought wrong. We lived on the wrong side of the tracks. Michael swung by when he felt lonely. That’s it.”

“Sorry. Continue with Blankenship.” Paddy brought two heading plates of steak and fries to the table.  A waitress brought a pitcher of water. 

“Steak and fries for my favorite people.  You told her, didn’t you?”

“She asked,” Konan said. Paddy winked at Lilly. 

“We ain’t all bad darling. Only the good parts are bad. The rest of the time, we are normal people. Just trying to make it.”

“I understand,” Lilly said. She cut into the steak and put it in her mouth. Paddy watched. Konan bowed his head and whispered a few words. When he looked up, he noticed Lilly’s face was flushed.

“Something wrong with the steak,” Paddy asked. Lilly shook her head no.

“The steak is wonderful, Paddy. I realized too late that Konan was praying over his food.”

“Oh yeah, he’s a good Christian boy. Goes to church and everything.”

Paddy excused himself. Lilly and Konan ate in silence for a bit. Lilly licked her lips and patted her belly. 

“That’s some serious grub, Konan. And good too.”

“Yeah, Paddy can burn some mean grub.”

“You were going to tell me about Blankenship.”

“We served together. He was mean as a rattlesnake in August. That was on his good day. Blankenship was known to shoot first. A friend of mine sent an email to me. He is a political tool used to silence opposition. I think he worked for Khalid. Maybe Khalid’s wife.”

“What did his file say?”

“He’s still listed as active duty.”

“You’re telling me that Blankenship is killing people with the authority of the government?”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought too.”

“How does that fit into the murder of Khalid’s wife?”

“I’m not sure yet, but would it be too much to think that maybe it was personal?”

“Blankenship and Khalid? I don’t know. Why would Blankenship strike at Khalid? Maybe one of his peers wanted him out of the way?”

“Maybe. The way she was killed though, it wasn’t professional. It seemed personal. As if the killer wanted her to feel the pain.”

“You think that the relationship was between Khalid’s wife and Blankenship.”

“Yeah. I think it might have been.”

The pub had emptied out after the lunch rush. Paddy walked around supervising the clean-up, his employees laughed and cracked jokes while they worked. Paddy joined in with the shenanigans. 

Lilly watched as they worked. Konan had laid quite a theory on her, and she mulled it over. ‘Why would Blankenship kill Ilhan Mohammed? It didn’t fit the pattern.’

Konan watched Lilly. He couldn’t care less about the antics of the staff. He found Lilly to be irresistible. When she was in deep thought, she bit her lip. Like how she was doing it now. Her eyes were spectacular. Her eyes were the color of jade, her brown hair framed her face perfectly. Konan struggled to turn his mind from her to the case.

“That’s quite a theory you’ve got there,” Lilly finally said.  “Where’s the proof?”

“There’s none to be had. If we only had some way to shake up Khalid. I know he knows something. Then again, that’s only guesswork.”

“We should focus on Blankenship.”

“That’s what bothers me the most.”

“What,” Lilly asked.

“Let’s say that the deal was to kill only Talia Omar. Let’s assume that she told Rasheed a secret or something. Blankenship and his hirer find out about it, then they killed Rasheed. It fits a pattern, both are known to the to the other, and then POW! Ilhan doesn’t fit…wait a second.”

“What?”

“What if Khalid didn’t hire Blankenship…”

“She did,” Lilly surmised. “She hired him to take out Talia, and then Rasheed, but something happened. Something that made Blankenship shove railroad spikes into her eyes.”

“Now all we have to do is find that something. In a way this would make a pretty neat finale for the case.”

“Yeah, it would. Where do we find a clue about something?”

“I’d tell you but you’re not going to like it.”

“Tell me,” Lilly sighed.

“You can pick this time. You talk either to Tia Mathers or Khalid. Whoever you choose, I’ll take the other.”

“Why do we have to talk to Tia?”

“She was at the meeting. Speaking of the meeting, we need to talk to everyone that was there.”

“Yeah. I’ll talk to Tia.”

“Alright. I’ll drop you off at the station.”

“Okay.”

Khalid drove to the station. Lilly got out and nodded to her partner. She watched as he pulled out into traffic. ‘It’s time to put aside the meek little mouse routine and be a lion.”

Lilly walked through the squad room; it was empty which was a rare thing. Often, there were at least a handful of people in the murder room. Tia watched as Lilly crossed the murder room and walked into her office.

“I figured you would be back, Lilly.”

“Yeah, I kinda figured I would be too. I need a list of who was at the meeting, and you’re gonna tell me what the meeting was about.”

Tia leaned forward and gave Lilly a cold smile. Lilly met her eyes and put both hands on the desk.

“I’m not giving you a list, period. As for the meeting, it’s need-to-know, and you don’t need to know.”

“Don’t make me hurt you, Tia.”

Tia laughed. “Oh honey, you don’t want to go there. If we throw down, you’re getting whooped. So, take your little attitude and walk out of my office under your own power. Before I have your lithe little body carried out of here on a stretcher.”

Lilly squared up. Tia stood to her feet and walked around the desk. She leaned against it and smiled. 

“You sure you want to do this, Lilly.”

“It ain’t gonna be as easy as think, Chief.”

Tia moved to square up against her opponent, when Lilly slammed her right hand into Tia’s thick jaw. Tia’s knees buckled. Lilly let loose with a flurry of punches to the neck and face. She leaned down and punched Tia one more time for good measure.

“WHO WAS AT THE MEETING?! GIVE ME THE NAMES AND PURPOSE OF IT!”

Tia put her hands up.

“Okay, okay. Every elected official in Mississippi was at the meeting. I was just brought into the fold. The purpose is to safeguard the direction of our state. That’s it, that’s all I know.”

“What do you mean ‘safeguard the direction of the state?’ You’re scheming? Who’s behind it? The Republicans? The Democrats? The Independents?”

Tia laughed. “The parties are for suckers. All politicians are the same. They pick a party to divide the spoils. As for who is behind it, I don’t know.”

“I want a list…”

“Make your own list. I’m not doing your homework for you.”

Lilly backed up and let Tia stand to her feet. Tia groaned as she climbed to her feet. She stared at Lilly. 

“Pretty good punch you got there, Detective.”

“Yeah, you take punches really well, Chief.”

Tia moved to the blinds and let them down. Lilly turned to face her, but the spat was over. Satisfied that no one could peek into the office, Tia sat behind her desk.

“We’re going to keep this between us. Next time, I promise, there will be a different outcome. Get out of my office.”

Lilly turned and walked out. It never occurred to her to smite her boss, but she had. ‘It all went south when Tia decided to threaten me.’ While the wording Tia had used could be construed as a threat, Lilly doubted it would hold up in front of a board of her superiors.

Thankfully, Tia wanted to avoid embarrassment. Lilly went to the ladies’ room to freshen up. She had broken a nail while assaulting her boss.

While Lilly tuned up Tia Mathers, Konan drove to Khalid’s house. Luckily, Khalid was home. Grandmother watched as Konan pulled in behind the used Mercedes that Khalid drove. It was spic-an-span clean inside and out. Thermopolis got out of the unmarked sedan and walked to the door. Grandmother led him to the living room. She came back with a cup of coffee. Khalid came down the stairs from the upper floor. His face was tight, his mouth a tight line. He strode across the room and gave Konan his best fake smile.

“Detective, how may I help you now?”

Khalid motioned for Konan to sit. Konan sat in a Queen Anne chair. The two men stared at each other. It was apparent to Konan that Khalid was on edge. 

“I know you’ve had a tough day today,” Konan said. “I have just a few other questions if you don’t mind.”

“I called my lawyer when I saw you come up. Let’s wait for her, and then you may ask your questions.”

“Okay. “Konan pointed at the coffee cup. “This is fantastic coffee. What is it?”

“I don’t know,” Khalid said. He called for the woman he called Grandmother and said something to her. She rattled off something back. Khalid nodded and said, “it’s an American coffee. Community Café Especial.”

“Never heard of it. It’s delicious.”

Khalid nodded. The doorbell rang. Grandmother departed the room to answer the door. She led the lawyer to the den. She glared at Konan; he gave her a smile.

“Well, I’m here. Let’s get on with it, shall we?”

“We shall,” Konan responded. “Sir, I need to know if the name William Blankenship means anything to you.”

“I know of a man named that,” Khalid said. His admission caused Konan to frown.  Konan nodded.

“How do you know him?”

“I met him through my wife. Her father had him do odd jobs for him.”

“You mean contract killings?”

Khalid shrugged indifferent to the accusation. “I was not privy to the nature of the jobs he carried out.”

“How did your wife know Mr. Blankenship?”

“I told you. She knew him through her father.”

“Okay, moving on. Did your wife ever hire Mr. Blankenship?”

“I don’t know. She never used him after we wed. Before that, I have no idea. Do you think he killed my wife?”

“We are investigating leads, sir. His name came up during our investigation. Do you have his number or email? I would like to ask him a few questions.”

“No. I met the man once. We didn’t swap numbers. I have no need to contact him.”

“Did your wife work?”

“No. She was my wife. I took care of her needs.”

“Would she handle business without you knowing of it?”

“No. All business was conducted by me. She was submissive to my demands. Any other questions? I arrangements to make and business to handle.”

“Nope, I am out of questions. Thank you for taking the time to answer them.”

His lawyer, Lucy Smith, handed Konan her business card. She glared at him when he put it in his wallet.

“The next time you have ‘questions’ call me.”

“Do you mind if I call you for dinner sometime?”

“Yes, I mind.”

“Well, that’s too bad. I hoped we could be friends.”

“I have plenty of friends. My dance card is full up.”

Konan smiled and met her eyes. “Sure, you’re a pretty lady. I don’t reckon you have any need for more friends. Take care of yourself.”

Lucy snorted and stuck her nose in the air. She huffed away without another glance at him. Konan watched her go and chuckled.

“Bless her heart. She’s all kind of pretty, but pretty doesn’t equate out to brains.”

Konan followed Grandmother to the door. The old woman patted him on the back when he left. He turned back and nodded to her. She smiled and closed the door.

He drove back to the station. Lilly sat their desk. She met Konan’s eyes when he sat down. 

“How did it go,” Lilly asked. Konan shrugged and rolled his eyes.

“He knows of Blankenship. Claimed to have met him through his wife’s father. Also claimed that he never used him to do any jobs for him. I asked if it were possible that his wife hired him, and he said no. How did you do?”

Lilly clenched her right hand and released it. She smiled and shrugged. 

“We talked.”

“And? Is that why Tia’s blinds are down?”

Manson walked by and glared at Lilly. She leaned close and whispered, “you better watch your back girlie. Bad things happen to good people.” Lilly smiled. She leaned back in her chair and said, “come on with it then, Manson. I’ve got time to handle whatever you think you’ve got lined up.”

Manson turned and stormed away. She and her partner stormed out of the squad room. Konan watched them leave.

“What’s that all about?”

“I’ll tell you in the car. Let’s get out of here for a bit.” Konan nodded and they walked out of the squad room. As they walked out, Konan caught Tia peeking through the slits in the blinds.

Konan and Lilly got in the unmarked sedan and drove to the nameless park. They sat on the picnic table and watched the barges float by. He didn’t pressure her to tell him, she would tell him when she found the words. After some time, she looked at him. There were tears in her eyes.

“I beat her butt red,” she blurted out. Konan looked at her and grinned.

“What did you use? Brass knuckles? A two-by-four?”

“I used this,” she said as she balled up her right hand into a fist. “I caught her napping, so I knew I had to make the first blow count. It buckled her knees. I let it rip after that.”

“That’s impressive, Lilly. I don’t understand why you aren’t suspended or fired though.”

“Tia didn’t expect to get whooped. She hated the beating but would hate it more to have to explain it to her bosses.”

“I see. Well, besides kicking her Viking Princess butt all over the office, did you learn anything?”

“Yeah. Tia claimed that there is a group of politicians, all of them to be exact, that wanted to direct the direction of our state. She also claimed that she was just brought into the fold.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“What doesn’t make sense? You don’t think that there is a shadow government in play?”

“In Mississippi? At the local level? No.”

Lilly shrugged her shoulders and sat quietly on the bench. It was bad enough she’d beat her boss up, now her partner scoffed at what she’d learned. ‘It’s just a bad day,” she thought to herself.

Konan tapped her on the shoulder, Lilly looked at him. He put his arm around her and pulled her into a hug. 

“I am sure there is something to it, but I’ve no idea how it all fits together.”

“Me either. I think I broke my hand on Tia’s hard head.”

Konan laughed. “You must have whacked her good to buckle those knees,” he said. Lilly snorted.

“I should have handled it better.”

“Well, it’s too late for that now. We will deal with the consequences later. Our focus should be on finding Blankenship.”

“I agree. We need answers. Khalid didn’t know anything that would help us?”

“No. He said he did not know his number or contact information. Someone must know it. Personnel Records doesn’t keep up with that type of information. Blankenship is not assigned to any particular base neither.”

“But he would have to be near one though, right? To report in and get assignments?”

Konan scratched at his forehead. ‘How could I have missed that?’ He shook his head in disbelief. 

“Yeah, he would have to make a physical appearance every now and then. No chain of command would let you report in only by electronic means.”

“Are there any bases near here?”

“There are two within driving distance.”

“How far is ‘driving distance’, Konan?”

“Four to eight hours. Fort Belton and Fort Derris are in Alabama.”

“We should call them and find out if they’re in the know about Blankenship.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Konan said. “You call one and I will call the other. If there’s anything to be found there, we will go check it out.”

“After we contact the local authorities and alert them to our presence.”

“Sure. After we do that.”

Konan drove to his mobile home after he dropped Lilly by her apartment. He lived on the outskirts of town, she lived in town. Konan’s trailer was close enough to town to catch public transportation, but far enough out that he was not bothered by the normal rat-race hijinks. Lilly decided she would call Fort Derris, that left him with Fort Belton.

It was already late when he returned to his home. His call to Fort Belton would have to wait until the morning. 

At 0900, he called Fort Belton. The training officer for the 171st Heavy Tank Regiment answered the phone. 

“171st Tank Regiment,” the training officer said. 

“Good morning, I am Detective Sergeant Konan Thermopolis from the 117th. I’ve been assigned to investigate a murder here in town. A soldier’s name was mentioned, but I can’t find his unit. You wouldn’t happen to have a William Blankenship on your roll, would you?”

“No. There is no one here by that name. Sorry I couldn’t be more help.”

“No problem, thanks.”

Konan made a few more calls to various units that were listed. Fort Belton served as a ‘training’ post. Various units from all over the country came to train in the harsh, humid climate. ‘It’s a needle in a haystack.’

No one had him on the rolls. His search for Blankenship was a bust. “I’ll have to hope that Lilly had more luck than I.” Konan had called from home, so he decided that he would drive to work. 

Konan walked to the storage unit he rented on the outskirts of town. With the easy access to public transportation, he saw no need to drive to work. Still, he enjoyed the convenience of owning his own vehicle. 

He punched in the code on the electronic pad. The door made a racket, and Konan walked through the door. His storage unit was on the very last unit at the end of the row.

Konan unlocked the door and prepped his vehicle. The big red Dodge diesel rumbled to life, and he pulled it out into the sunshine. “Nothing runs like a Cummins,” he said quietly. He drove out and headed to the station.

Lilly was hard at work when he walked into the murder room. She gave him a nod and went back to her work. Konan sat across from her. 

“Morning,” she growled. 

“Yeah, morning. Any luck?”

“I don’t know, but someone called for you. I told them you weren’t in yet, and they said they would call you back.”

“Okay. Did you find anything.”

“No,” she said. Her mouth curved down into a frown, the veins in her neck was taut as she banged on the keyboard. She huffed suddenly and jabbed the backspace key repeatedly.

“You want to talk about it?”

“About what,” she snarled. Her eyes flashed wickedly, her eyebrows arched as if there was nothing wrong with her, but with him. Konan forced a smile. 

“I’m going to grab some coffee, do you want some?”

“No.”

Konan nodded and whispered “okay”. He decided he would get his coffee from the vendor in the town square. ‘It’ll give her a chance to cool off.’ On his way down the hallway, a hoodie wearing man leaned against the door frame. 

“Good morning, Konan.”

“Good morning,” Konan replied as he walked past. He stopped and turned around the man stood in the middle of the hall watching him, his hands jammed into both pockets.

“I understand you’re looking for me,” Blankenship said. Konan took two steps, Blankenship put up one hand.

“That’s far enough. Unless you don’t think much of your partner and fellow officers.”

“I have looked for you, William. What are you doing?”

“My job, son. That’s all.”

Konan considered drawing his weapon, but Blankenship had chosen a prime location to have this talk. No one would be able to help Konan if things went bad. He exhaled.

“Fine. Who hired you?”

Blankenship laughed. He shook his head. “I’m not telling you that. I came to warn you not to pursue this any further. If you would insist upon continuing your investigation, I’m going to hurt you. This is a professional courtesy. Back off.”

With those words Blankenship turned and walked away. When he got to his exit, he pulled out the detonator and laid on it on the floor. 

“Don’t pursue me, Konan. Think of the children.”

Konan rushed to the door, but Blankenship was gone. He picked up the detonator. Then, he walked out to get his coffee. When he came back inside, Lilly was pounding away on her phone. Konan reached for his phone and dialed the bomb squad.

Moments later the entire department was escorted out of the building to a safe distance from the structure. He handed the detonator to the explosive expert. 

“Christ Almighty, man. You should have said something before you got your coffee! What if the bomb had been on a timer?”

“It wasn’t.”

“How did you know that? Are you all-knowing?”

“No,” Konan responded, “but I do know the bomber. If he wanted to blow the place up, he would have done so without ever speaking to me.”

“Jesus,” the tech shouted. “You violated the rules.” His voice carried and Tia Mathers came over.

“What’s going on,” she asked. The tech filled her in on Konan’s lapse in judgment. Lilly watched from a safe distance away.

“That’s it,” she snarled. “I warned you not to play fast and loose with the rules. You’ve gone too far.”

Konan started to say something, but he didn’t. He shut his mouth. A crowd had gathered at the sight of the entire department huddled outside of their headquarters. In that crowd stood Blankenship. He winked at Konan.

“You’re done, hand over your badge and your gun,” Tia growled. Lilly came over, but Tia waved her off. 

“Don’t even get started,” she shouted at Lilly. Konan handed over his gear and smiled at Lilly.

“Sorry. Come over later and I will get you caught up.”

“Are you okay?”

“Mmhmm. Just peachy. Talk to you soon.”

Konan turned and walked toward the crowd, but Blankenship was gone.  He frowned and shook his head. ‘Outwitted again.” He turned and walked to his truck. Once there, he got in and drove to O’Shea’s.

Paddy was waiting for him when he pulled in. Konan got out and walked toward him. For many years Paddy smoked. ‘It’s a filthy habit,” he would tell Konan between puffs of his stogie. He had quit his ‘filthy habit’ after his doctor said he had cancer. He didn’t. The doctor wanted to scare him after losing at the track. Paddy didn’t like being scared, so the doctor disappeared one night on his way home from work. He was never seen again.

Still, Paddy enjoyed the ‘feel’ of the stogie in his mouth. He worked with one hanging from his mouth, unlit of course. 

“Where’s Lilly,” Paddy asked as Konan came up. 

“She’s at work.” Paddy nodded. 

“Yeah, but you ain’t. What happened?”

“I’m either fired or suspended without pay. Chief Mathers hasn’t told me yet.”

“Jesus, kid.”

“Yeah. I need a favor.”

“What do you need?”

“I need you to get a message to dad.”

Paddy eyed Konan with suspicion. Konan had never gone to see his father, there was bad blood between the two. While Paddy understood why Konan wouldn’t visit him, he never understood why Konan hated his family.

“What’s the message?”

“William “Deadeye” Blankenship. I want his location, next of kin, and all pertinent information. Hold nothing back.”

Paddy bit down on his stogie, his eyes as dead as the doctor that tried to screw with him about his cancer diagnosis.

“Your dad is a businessman. Nothing is free, not even for family. He is gonna want something from you.”

“Yeah, I figured.”

“It’ll take some time. I will give you a call when I have something.”

“Thanks, Paddy.”

“You’re welcome. You want something to eat?”

“Later, maybe. I have things that need to get done.”

Konan hugged Paddy. ‘Dad is a homicidal maniac, but Paddy is alright.’ It chapped Konan’s backside that he had to ask his father for help, but it irked him even more to owe him. Paddy had gone inside to make some phone calls. While he was inside, Konan decided to head home. 

Instead of taking his truck back to the storage unit, he kept it out. It was a low mileage truck, and the advice old men gave around these parts was that ‘a vehicle ain’t broke in until it’s got over a hunnert thousand on it.’ 

Lilly was having a bad day. ‘Everything had to happen today. First, we had a bomb threat, then a three-hour lecture because Konan screwed the pooch and ignored the rules. Then, he got fired. What else could possibly go wrong today?”

She continued to pound away at the keyboard of her computer. Fort Derris had given her the run around about Blankenship. ‘Someone must know where to find him.” Lilly was certain that someone knew, but there was no one willing to help her. ‘This guy must be a freaking savage,” she muttered to herself. 

No one would help her. Lilly slammed the screen down on her laptop and marched to Tia’s office. She walked in and plopped down in a chair. Tia watched amazed at the brashness of Lilly.

“Can I help you, Detective?”

“Yeah. I need to go to Fort Derris?”

Tia scowled at Lilly. ‘As if I would help you after our tussle.” She wanted to walk over and punch Lilly in her perfect face, but she controlled herself. After all, every dog has its day.

“Where is that?”

“In Alabama.”

“For what?”

“The case Konan and I caught. A name was given to Konan, and it happened to be a soldier.”

“This is the first I’ve heard about it.”

“Yeah. It all happened very fast, Chief.”

Tia’s scowl expressed her opinion of Lilly’s explanation. Lilly looked away. Tia took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly from her nostrils.

“Have you contacted Fort Derris?”

“Yeah, and Konan contacted Fort Belton. Both bases said they never heard of William Blankenship.”

“Well, there you go,” Tia laughed. “There’s no need to go to Alabama.”

“Except I was given the run around.”

“Does your partner suspect that it’s related?”

“I don’t know, you fired him this morning.” Tia stood and walked to the window and looked out at the murder room. Lilly waited for the blow that she knew she had coming. It never came.

“He’s not fired. I can’t stand that idiot, but he’s a good cop.” She walked back to her desk and took out Konan’s badge and weapon.

“Give him this and you both go to Fort Derris. Find me the killer and get this case closed.”

“Will do, Chief.”

Tia watched as Lilly scooped up the equipment. She put her hand up, and Lilly waited.

“One last thing, Detective. If you ever cross me again, you will pay for it. Not just you either, but your partner. Do we understand each other?”

“Yes.”

“Both of your futures are in your hands. I’d be careful.”

“Understood.”

“You’re dismissed, Detective.”

Lilly walked out of the office. Her day had a silver lining after all. She hopped the bus and walked to the back. A hooded man sat a few seats in front of her and looked out the window. Lilly scarcely paid attention to him. When she arrived at her stop, the hooded man stepped in front of her.

“Excuse me, Detective Thompson.”

“No worries,” she replied. ‘I can’t wait to see Konan’s expression,” she thought excitedly. The man looked at Konan’s mobile home and walked off toward the industrial park in the distance.

Lilly walked up and pounded on the door. Konan shuffled to it and peeped out. He opened the door.

“Hey,” he said. “You get fired too?”

“I didn’t. Neither did you.”

She handed him his weapon and badge. He looked at them and then at his partner. Konan shook his head.

“I don’t understand.”

“Tia sent me to get you.”

“Oh. That woman could screw up a wet dream. Just as I was having a great time. Where are we going?”

“Fort Derris. You may want to change clothes. I doubt they would take you seriously in your Pjs and house shoes.”

“Yeah,” Konan sighed. “I’ll be right back.”

After a quick change, Konan walked out of his bedroom. Together they left the mobile home. She watched as Konan locked the door. 

“Is this your truck,” she asked. 

“Yeah, it’s mine.”

“I didn’t even know you had a vehicle.”

“There’s a lot about me you don’t know.”

“Are we taking it, or do you want to get a squad car?”

“We’ll take my ride. You call the local LEO’s and let them know we will be in the area.”

“Okay.” She pulled out her smart phone and searched for the number. Konan slid behind the wheel and started the truck. Lilly looked at him from her peripheral vision. Konan looked somber. As if Michangelo himself had carved his face from stone.

“You seem to be in better spirits,” Konan said as he pulled onto the interstate.

“Yeah, I am. Your countenance has fallen from this morning. You look like a gargoyle.”

Konan laughed. “Yeah, it’s been quite the day.”

“You want to tell me about it?” Konan started to speak when Lilly put her hand up. A squawking voice came through the speakers. 

“Yes,” Lilly said. “I’m Detective Lilly Thompson of the 117th Police Squad from Fredericksburg, Mississippi. We are enroute to Fort Derris to ask questions concerning our case. I wanted to call and touch base with y’all.”

The squawking continued. Lilly nodded and said mmhmm, yeah, okay and hung up the phone. “We’re good to go,” she said.

Konan nodded and gave her a thumbs up. She smiled and winked at him. “I’m happy he’s back. It’s strange how attached we have become.”

Tell me what happened this morning,” she said. “And stop so we can get something to eat and drink.”

“Okay. I talked to Blankenship this morning.”

“You what,” Lilly gasped. “Why didn’t you arrest him?”

“He set the bomb. It was him. He warned me to back off or you all would suffer the consequences.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No. He walked out and put the detonator on the bench.”

“Holy Jesus. Did you get a look at him?”

“He was wearing a hoodie and had the hood up. He’s aged, there is gray in his beard. I don’t think he would let us arrest him. At this point, he would make us kill him.”

“What color was his hoodie, Konan?” The color drained from her face when she remembered her encounter with the stranger on the bus.

“Black, I think.” Lilly grew quiet. Konan glanced at her and looked back at the road. “Why?” he asked.

“I think I met him on the bus.” Konan pulled off the road and looked at her. Her hands trembled. She took a deep breath and composed herself. 

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I never thought nothing about it until now.” Konan patted her arm. Lilly forced a smile at him.

“We need to be careful, Lilly. Blankenship is a dangerous man.”

“I agree.”

A Good Man…a new story, unedited and incomplete…

“Let me get this straight, bud. Your wife was raped, your daughters are traumatized, and you were beaten within an inch of your life, but you want to talk to the people who did it? Is that summed up correctly?”

Jace Whitmore stared at me. The bruises on Jace’s face was still swollen. His left eye was completely closed, his right was barely open. He nodded his head yes.

“You would never understand it, brother. You joined the military before you even left high school. Violence is all you know. Your leaders told you that violence solves issues, but it doesn’t. All it does is muddy the waters.”

I sat on my truck bed and listened to him. ‘He’s nothing like the man he used to be,’ I thought. There was a time when he would have gone out and settled the score. Marriage had softened him. ‘What kind of man would not fight for his family?’

Jace had walked to the other side of the truck and propped up on the metal body. Ever so often he would wince from the pain. He winced a lot.

“Whatever you want to do bud. I am here if you need me.” Of course, I had no intention of letting this insanity continue for one day longer than necessary. I just told him that to keep him in the clear. As a matter of fact, I had bad intentions for the people that carried out this heinous deed.

There was going to be a reckoning. The price would be paid in blood.

My story began on a cold day in 1973. My momma was a good woman, my dad a good man. They raised me to be a good man in my own right. It ain’t their fault that I turned out the way I did.

“Terry, son, you’ve got to control your temper,” they would tell me. I tried; I really did. Things would be fine, and suddenly they weren’t. The doctors told them I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“How’d he get it,” my parents asked. The docs had no clue. Heck, I was living it, and I had no clue.

“It’s brought on my traumatic experiences. Has he ever seen, heard, or done anything to cause this to manifest?”

I was 9. My mom got this scowl on her face like she thought the doctor might have sipped some ‘shine before she came in. The doctor looked like she been hitting the hillbilly juice on a regular.

“He’s nine,” my mother emphasized. The doctor shrugged. My mom and the doctor came to a conclusion that this conversation wasn’t going anywhere, so they decided to drop it. Now, you younger folks might not know what ‘dropping a conversation” might be. It’s when they realized it wasn’t going anywhere so they quit talking about it.

Kinda like me and Jace. I knew he wasn’t going to back down from his position of self-righteousness, and I wasn’t going to tell him I would handle it in my own special way. I dropped it.

It all started on a hot day in a desert.

April 2002:

I walked into the blood red barracks. My brown shirt was grey from the lack of salt in my body. It didn’t matter how much water I drank, nor how many salt tablets I chewed, I couldn’t keep the mineral in my body. I stopped by the staff duty desk and asked for directions from a bored looking private. “Down the hall on the left,” she said.

Her directions were good. On the closed door was a plaque that read: First Sergeant Timothy Maroon. My grin stretched across my narrow face. ‘What a maroon,’ I heard Bugs Bunny say in my mind. I knocked on the door three times.

“Enter,” a booming voice called out. I opened the door. First Sergeant Maroon sat behind an old metal table. The kind you saw in factories. He studied my face for a moment and then motioned for me to have a seat.

“Who are you, he asked, “and why are you here disturbing me?”

“Sorry, First Sergeant, it wasn’t my intention to disturb you. I am Staff Sergeant Terry Withers. I was to report to you two weeks ago, but I was injured and sent to the rear for surgery.”

“Right. You’re the scout truck guy, yeah?”

“That’s me.”

“Well, welcome to your new home Staff. How’d your surgery go?”

“It went fine. A piece of shrapnel went through my left foot. They went in and got as much of it out as they could.”

“Do you have a medical profile?”

“I did have, but it appears that I lost it on the way here.”

“Alright. You were to be assigned to Second Platoon. They’ve been hard hit as of late, so you room arrangements that I made before you got hurt should still be good.” He studied a sheet of paper and nodded. “You will room with Staff Sergeant Jace Whitmore.”

“Roger, First Sergeant.”

“Let me get a duty runner, and they will escort you to your room.”

I sat back and waited. Seconds later, a frail looking private burst into the room. It took me all of a handful of seconds to realize this kid had a motor tick.

“Jenkins, take Staff Sergeant to Staff Sergeant Whitmore’s room.”

“Roger, First Sergeant.” The corner of his mouth twitched. He looked at me, well, I think he looked at me. He wore glasses, and man, they were thick.

“Follow me, Sergeant.”

I nodded goodbye to First Sergeant Maroon and followed the kid down the hallway. On the second floor, two doors down on the left, the kid stopped. He pointed at the door.

“Here you are, Sergeant. Do you want to knock or should I?”

“Go ahead, Private. Knock yourself out.”

The kid banged on the door three times. From behind the door, you could hear the shuffle of feet. The door cracked open, and this mellow voice called out of the darkness.

“Yeah,” it whispered sleepily. The kid went to parade rest.

“Sergeant, I brought your new roommate here on orders of First Sergeant Maroon.”

“Relax kid, I got it from here. You’re dismissed.” The kid nodded and walked away.

“Staff Whitmore, yeah? I’m Staff Withers.”

Jace flipped on the lights and nodded. He waved me into the room and pointed at the second bed in the room.

“That’s yours. Now, excuse me. I’ve been up all night on duty. It’s time for me to grab some shut eye.”

“Sure,” I said. “I understand. I’ll grab my gear when you get up.”

“Roger.” I flipped off the lights and stretched out on my new bed. It’s a good thing that I have no problem going to sleep anywhere.

The Rainy Ripper…new writing, unedited, incomplete…

While Lilly tuned up Tia Mathers, Konan drove to Khalid’s house. Luckily, Khalid was home. Grandmother watched as Konan pulled in behind the used Mercedes that Khalid drove. It was spic-an-span clean inside and out. Thermopolis got out of the unmarked sedan and walked to the door. Grandmother led him to the living room. She came back with a cup of coffee. Khalid came down the stairs from the upper floor. His face was tight, his mouth a tight line. He strode across the room and gave Konan his best fake smile.

“Detective, how may I help you now?”

Khalid motioned for Konan to sit. Konan sat in a Queen Anne chair. The two men stared at each other. It was apparent to Konan that Khalid was on edge. 

“I know you’ve had a tough day today,” Konan said. “I have just a few other questions if you don’t mind.”

“I called my lawyer when I saw you come up. Let’s wait for her, and then you may ask your questions.”

“Okay. “Konan pointed at the coffee cup. “This is fantastic coffee. What is it?”

“I don’t know,” Khalid said. He called for the woman he called Grandmother and said something to her. She rattled off something back. Khalid nodded and said, “it’s an American coffee. Community Café Especial.”

“Never heard of it. It’s delicious.”

Khalid nodded. The doorbell rang. Grandmother departed the room to answer the door. She led the lawyer to the den. She glared at Konan; he gave her a smile.

“Well, I’m here. Let’s get on with it, shall we?”

“We shall,” Konan responded. “Sir, I need to know if the name William Blankenship means anything to you.”

“I know of a man named that,” Khalid said. His admission caused Konan to frown.  Konan nodded.

“How do you know him?”

“I met him through my wife. Her father had him do odd jobs for him.”

“You mean contract killings?”

Khalid shrugged indifferent to the accusation. “I was not privy to the nature of the jobs he carried out.”

“How did your wife know Mr. Blankenship?”

“I told you. She knew him through her father.”

“Okay, moving on. Did your wife ever hire Mr. Blankenship?”

“I don’t know. She never used him after we wed. Before that, I have no idea. Do you think he killed my wife?”

“We are investigating leads, sir. His name came up during our investigation. Do you have his number or email? I would like to ask him a few questions.”

“No. I met the man once. We didn’t swap numbers. I have no need to contact him.”

“Did your wife work?”

“No. She was my wife. I took care of her needs.”

“Would she handle business without you knowing of it?”

“No. All business was conducted by me. She was submissive to my demands. Any other questions? I arrangements to make and business to handle.”

“Nope, I am out of questions. Thank you for taking the time to answer them.”

His lawyer, Lucy Smith, handed Konan her business card. She glared at him when he put it in his wallet.

“The next time you have ‘questions’ call me.”

“Do you mind if I call you for dinner sometime?”

“Yes, I mind.”

“Well, that’s too bad. I hoped we could be friends.”

“I have plenty of friends. My dance card is full up.”

Konan smiled and met her eyes. “Sure, you’re a pretty lady. I don’t reckon you have any need for more friends. Take care of yourself.”

Lucy snorted and stuck her nose in the air. She huffed away without another glance at him. Konan watched her go and chuckled.

“Bless her heart. She’s all kind of pretty, but pretty doesn’t equate out to brains.”

Konan followed Grandmother to the door. The old woman patted him on the back when he left. He turned back and nodded to her. She smiled and closed the door.

He drove back to the station. Lilly sat their desk. She met Konan’s eyes when he sat down. 

“How did it go,” Lilly asked. Konan shrugged and rolled his eyes.

“He knows of Blankenship. Claimed to have met him through his wife’s father. Also claimed that he never used him to do any jobs for him. I asked if it were possible that his wife hired him, and he said no. How did you do?”

Lilly clenched her right hand and released it. She smiled and shrugged. 

“We talked.”

“And? Is that why Tia’s blinds are down?”

Manson walked by and glared at Lilly. She leaned close and whispered, “you better watch your back girlie. Bad things happen to good people.” Lilly smiled. She leaned back in her chair and said, “come on with it then, Manson. I’ve got time to handle whatever you think you’ve got lined up.”

Manson turned and stormed away. She and her partner stormed out of the squad room. Konan watched them leave.

“What’s that all about?”

“I’ll tell you in the car. Let’s get out of here for a bit.” Konan nodded and they walked out of the squad room. As they walked out, Konan caught Tia peeking through the slits in the blinds.

Konan and Lilly got in the unmarked sedan and drove to the nameless park. They sat on the picnic table and watched the barges float by. He didn’t pressure her to tell him, she would tell him when she found the words. After some time, she looked at him. There were tears in her eyes.

“I beat her butt red,” she blurted out. Konan looked at her and grinned.

“What did you use? Brass knuckles? A two-by-four?”

“I used this,” she said as she balled up her right hand into a fist. “I caught her napping, so I knew I had to make the first blow count. It buckled her knees. I let it rip after that.”

“That’s impressive, Lilly. I don’t understand why you aren’t suspended or fired though.”

“Tia didn’t expect to get whooped. She hated the beating but would hate it more to have to explain it to her bosses.”

“I see. Well, besides kicking her Viking Princess butt all over the office, did you learn anything?”

“Yeah. Tia claimed that there is a group of politicians, all of them to be exact, that wanted to direct the direction of our state. She also claimed that she was just brought into the fold.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“What doesn’t make sense? You don’t think that there is a shadow government in play?”

“In Mississippi? At the local level? No.”

Lilly shrugged her shoulders and sat quietly on the bench. It was bad enough she’d beat her boss up, now her partner scoffed at what she’d learned. ‘It’s just a bad day,” she thought to herself.

Konan tapped her on the shoulder, Lilly looked at him. He put his arm around her and pulled her into a hug. 

“I am sure there is something to it, but I’ve no idea how it all fits together.”

“Me either. I think I broke my hand on Tia’s hard head.”

Konan laughed. “You must have whacked her good to buckle those knees,” he said. Lilly snorted.

“I should have handled it better.”

“Well, it’s too late for that now. We will deal with the consequences later. Our focus should be on finding Blankenship.”

“I agree. We need answers. Khalid didn’t know anything that would help us?”

“No. He said he did not know his number or contact information. Someone must know it. Personnel Records doesn’t keep up with that type of information. Blankenship is not assigned to any particular base neither.”

“But he would have to be near one though, right? To report in and get assignments?”

Konan scratched at his forehead. ‘How could I have missed that?’ He shook his head in disbelief. 

“Yeah, he would have to make a physical appearance every now and then. No chain of command would let you report in only by electronic means.”

“Are there any bases near here?”

“There are two within driving distance.”

“How far is ‘driving distance’, Konan?”

“Four to eight hours. Fort Belton and Fort Derris are in Alabama.”

“We should call them and find out if they’re in the know about Blankenship.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Konan said. “You call one and I will call the other. If there’s anything to be found there, we will go check it out.”

“After we contact the local authorities and alert them to our presence.”

“Sure. After we do that.”